Q: How can the league suspend Georges Laraque for his elbow on (Buffalo defenseman Nathan Paetsch) the other night? That hit was no more than a two-minute minor. I watch Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin take worse than that every game, with nothing called. I realize the league wants to cut down on concussions and that's OK, but be fair. Don't make a decision on who the perpetrator is, but rather how severe the (infraction) is. Am I missing something?
Randy Stutler, Toronto, Ohio
MOLINARI: First, let's start with the basic assumption that the NHL had conclusive video evidence that Laraque elbowed Paetsch in the head. Replays available during the game did not make it clear that was the case, but it's pretty much unthinkable that the league would force a player to sit out games without having irrefutable proof that he was guilty of a significant offense.
So if Laraque did, in fact, commit the act of which he was accused, the moderator of this forum has no problem with the suspension he received. That doesn't mean he was looking to injure Paetsch -- frankly, with the Penguins comfortably in control of the game at that point, Laraque had no obvious motivation for going after a low-impact opponent like that -- but players do have to be accountable for their actions, intentional or otherwise.
The suspension is particularly justified in light of the NHL's stated desire to crack down on head shots, a reaction to the spate of concussions around the league in recent years. If sanctions like the ones imposed on Laraque help to reduce the number of head injuries, even relatively minor ones, it's well worth it.
As for Laraque, while he has been guilty of a questionable act or two this season -- shoving Philadelphia's Steve Downie into the boards from behind is a prominent example -- it can't be ignored that he made it to his 626th game in the NHL before doing something the league felt was suspension-worthy. That makes it pretty tough to argue that the NHL singled him out for punishment because of who he is.
Your point about Crosby and Malkin certainly has merit -- both receive a lot of harsh treatment, more than a little of it outside the rules -- but they aren't routinely knocked unconscious by blows to the head. And just because opponents sometimes commit acts against them that go undetected and/or unpunished doesn't mean the Penguins are entitled to get away with violating a rule.
Q: When talking about poor Penguins trades and/or personnel decisions, shouldn't Sergei Zubov going to Dallas be in the top tier?
Chris Mehl, Bozeman, Mont.
MOLINARI: Sending Zubov to Dallas for Kevin Hatcher in 1996 isn't going to bump the Markus Naslund for Alek(cq) Stojanov deal from the top of former general manager Craig Patrick's list of transactions that didn't work out the way he planned, but it's up there.
That was a draft-day deal, and when word began to circulate that the Penguins had dispatched Zubov to the Stars for Hatcher, the immediate assumption by nearly everyone who heard the news was that the Penguins were getting Derian Hatcher -- a pretty valuable commodity in those days -- not his brother.
Kevin Hatcher never lived up to his potential, but he did play 220 regular-season games here, and put up 45 goals and 95 assists. That's a bit more of a tangible contribution the two goals, four assists and 86 penalty minutes Stojanov had in 45 games before his NHL career effectively was ended by injuries sustained in an auto accident.
(And while this is a peripheral point, the context of the Naslund-Stojanov trade should be remembered. The Penguins were desperate to add toughness, which was Stojanov's strong suit, and Naslund seemed to be almost intimidated by some of the strong personalities in the Penguins' room at that time, so it was far from certain that he ever would have lived to his potential here the way he did after getting a fresh start with the Canucks.)