- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dale Hunter was the owner of the longest NHL suspension at the time when he laid out Pierre Turgeon well after a goal was scored in the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That wasn’t his decision, and on Wednesday as coach of the Washington Capitals he didn’t want to insert his thoughts on what punishment Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque should get for elbowing Nicklas Backstrom in the head.

“It’s not my call; it’s the league’s call,” Hunter said. “But definitely they’ll be looking at it.”

They — more specifically vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan — did take a look, suspending Bourque five games for the reckless play that eventually knocked the Caps’ center out of the game.

“When we look at the events of this game, we believe Bourque’s assertion that this was an instinctive reflex rather than a premeditated intent to injure,” Shanahan said in announcing the ban. “However, as all of the parties in the hearing agreed: This reckless elbow to the head is indefensible.”

It was what Shanahan called a “clear violation” of Rule 48, which protects against illegal checks to the head. Shanahan, who has earned praise for a more transparent process of handing out suspensions, pointed out that Backstrom’s head (his jaw to be precise) was the “principal point of contact.” Bourque’s two-game suspension 16 days ago for a hit from behind on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook made him a repeat offender, and that played into the ruling along with Backstrom’s head injury.

Capitals forward Troy Brouwer admitted not seeing the play, even the next day. But he knows a little bit about his ex-Blackhawks teammate’s reputation.

“He’s got a little edge to him,” Brouwer said. “Sometimes he crosses the line. He’s been suspended once this year already and once last year. Just from knowing him from playing when he was with Chicago, he’s got that little bit of an attitude to him as well. He plays a hard game, and it’s just the style of it.”

Washington forward Jay Beagle and other players saw the elbow from the bench and were none too pleased about it.

“It was uncalled for. Obviously, it was an elbow, a cheap shot,” said Beagle, who returned from a concussion last week after missing 31 games. “It could’ve resulted in a serious injury. It’s uncalled for.”

Backstrom’s status moving forward is unclear. The Caps did not go as far as to say he had a concussion, but Hunter noted he would be evaluated further Thursday. No decision had been made as of Wednesday morning whether the 24-year-old would go on the team’s California road trip.

Bourque delivered what Shanahan called a “reckless” elbow to Backstrom’s head that captain Alex Ovechkin seemed to indicate he believed was intentional.

“It’s a hockey game and anything can happen,” Ovechkin said. “Sometimes this happen when you don’t want to do it. So it looks like he wants to do it.”

As a repeat offender, Bourque will forfeit $203,252.05 in salary.