Here’s the problem:
- If Horton doesn’t go down—maybe he looks up a split-second earlier; maybe Rome gets his shoulder instead of his helmet, whatever—there’s no penalty called. It’s still interference, but it gets ignored as incidental contact.
- If Horton and Rome both go down there’s no call. It’s still interference, but it gets labeled a “collision” instead.
- If Horton goes down but isn’t hurt there might be an interference call, but it’s far from guaranteed.
- But if Horton gets laid out on the ice, unable to move, suddenly it’s not just a penalty for interference; it’s a misconduct, and people start ranting about how the league has to suspend Rome to send a clear message that this won’t be tolerated.
The league’s made a habit of punishing not the action, but the result. That’s why guys do this—the league has tolerated it. They’re gambling that they’ll get away with it because 99% of the time the league lets them. It’s only when someone gets hurt on national TV that the league decides to step in, by which point it’s too late. What’s a suspension going to accomplish? Fine, it would punish Rome for his stupidity, but that’s about it. Is it going to prevent the next Matt Cooke (or Zdeno Chara) from going after someone? None of the suspensions handed out to date have.
The only thing that’s going to clean up the game is enforcement. The league (and its refs) have to make it clear to players that they won’t get away with interference, or cheap shots, or contact away from the play. That means calling penalties according to the rule book even (heaven forbid!) when nobody’s gotten hurt. It means rewriting the rules if necessary to make things like hits to the head illegal. It means punishing the action, not the result. Hopefully Brendan Shanahan’s up to the task—Colin Campbell’s cowardly, ass-covering approach is a big reason why this shit keeps happening.