Many fans worry that the NHL is slowly but steadily legislating physicality out of the game, and this year delivered plenty of fuel for debate about player safety in the form of big, thundering checks that sent players end-over-end, tumbling into benches, and, on rare occasions, through the glass. Most of the hits were well within the rules, while others were cause for supplemental discipline as the NHL continued to place added emphasis on preventing head injuries. After sorting through nine-plus months of game highlights, we present the 13 most bone-rattling hits of 2013:
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It was never a matter of if the NHL would face a concussion lawsuit similar to the one settled for $765 million by the National Football League earlier this year. It was simply a matter of when.
So league officials could not have been surprised to learn today that a group of 10 former players have banded together to file a class action suit, essentially alleging that the NHL knew about the risks of head trauma and should have taken action long ago to inform and protect players.
Brendan Shanahan shouldn’t have to be this busy.
Not even three weeks into the 2013-14 season and the NHL’s chief disciplinarian already has doled out 53 games worth of suspensions and docked nearly $750,000 in pay from players who can’t figure out how to stay within the lines. And those figures are likely to rise on Tuesday after he meets with Colorado’s Cody McLeod, who was called on the carpet for boarding Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall on Thursday night.
By Allan Muir
Pretty much everyone who saw Lars Eller lying face down in a pool of his own blood on Thursday night was horrified by the results of Eric Gryba’s devastating open ice hit. But there weren’t many, outside of Montreal loyalists who looked at that collision and thought it was the sort of play that needed to be eliminated from the NHL.
Apparently that number swelled by at least one today as the Ottawa defender was handed a two-game suspension by Brendan Shanahan for what he called an “illegal check to the head of Eller.”
No doubt this was a tough call for the NHL’s chief disciplinarian. Arguably the toughest he’d faced all season. Despite the injury suffered by Eller, there was no black or white in this incident. Watch the replay a dozen times and you won’t see incontrovertible proof of Eller’s head being the primary point of contact – -or of an innocent hit gone awry — unless that’s exactly what you’re looking to see.
By Allan Muir
There’s nothing wrong with a player protecting himself. Brendan Shanahan pretty much called it an inalienable right in the video explaining defensive contact to the head that the league released just a couple of weeks back.
But, as with most things, there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way. And dissuading an opponent by leading with your elbow, Gordie Howe-style? Yeah, that’s going to get you hauled in front of Sheriff Shanny, a man who is unlikely to accept a plea of “old-time hockey.”
By Allan Muir
A five-game suspension for Ryan White? Now we’re starting to get somewhere.
Montreal’s blunt object was banished to the sidelines for all but the final game of the regular season by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety after a flat-out stupid hit on Philadelphia’s Kent Huskins on Monday night.
It probably didn’t take too many video reviews for Brendan Shanahan and crew to recognize that this was one of the easier calls they’ve faced this season. Huskins was skating the puck out from behind his own net and had just dished it off when White drew a bead on him, then slammed his shoulder directly into Huskins’ chin. The force of the blow left Huskins with a concussion.
By Allan Muir
The way Brendan Shanahan saw it, Anton Volchenkov had a choice. With Brad Marchand squarely in his sights, he could have blasted the Boston winger with a legal check, or he could have done something stupid.
Volchenkov went with Plan B. And so the New Jersey defender will sit out four critical stretch games.
Shanahan’s video explanation captured what everyone who watched the play saw. This was a cheap shot that could, and should, have been avoided.
“Rather than make a full body check, Volchenkov extends his elbow, making significant contact to the side of Marchand’s head,” Shanahan said. “Although Marchand…is stopping and turning his head away from Volchenkov to avoid the full force of the impending check, that doesn’t contribute or explain the reckless elbow contact to the head on what could’ve been a legal collision. He sees Marchand clearly, and if anything, Marchand’s actions just prior to contact forced Volchenkov to extend his elbow even further.”
By Allan Muir
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety found its missing teeth — soaking in a glass of lukewarm water and Poli-Dent, no doubt — and slapped them into its gaping maw just in time to take a two-game bite out of Alexander Edler’s season.
In the wake of the Rick Nash decision earlier in the day, it was reasonable to assume an air of leniency had descended over the DPS and Edler might be given a cookie, a glass of warm milk and a kiss goodnight for his troubles.
Instead, the Canucks defender was handed a suspension for his charge on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith that falls in line with what Andrew Shaw earned for his hit on Smith in last year’s playoffs…and one that’s two games more than Milan Lucic got for bowling over Ryan Miller in open ice earlier that season.
Crazy, ain’t it?
In his explanatory video, the DPS’ Rob Blake quoted NHL Rule 42: “A goalkeeper is not ‘fair game’ just because he is outside the goal crease area… However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the Referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.”
“While we agree that Alex Edler has no malicious intent on this play,” Blake added, “we believe he does not make any effort to minimize or avoid contact.”
Fair enough. Edler didn’t even think about avoiding contact, so he’s dead to rights there. I’d argue he made contact with Smith’s chest, rather than his head as Blake also mentions, but I’m not even sure that matters here. Smith wasn’t able to return to action and he’s dealing with what the team called whiplash, so factor the injury along with the charge and Edler was destined for civvies.
The decision tastes sour after the Nash pardon, but on its own merits it seems like a reasonable result. And since looking for a precedent in previous decisions has become a fool’s errand, that’s probably the best we can hope for.
UPDATE: A league executive phoned (way too early) this morning to say that the Lucic/Miller incident sparked a renewed commitment from the league to protect goaltenders and so it wasn’t an ideal point of comparison to the Edler hit. That’s a fair point, so it was worth including here. It doesn’t, however, alter the overarching context that the DPS’ reactions to the Nash/Edler incidents reinforces the existing perception that DPS lacks coherent standards.
By Allan Muir
Joffrey Lupul has played brilliantly in his first two games back with the Maple Leafs since missing most of the season with a broken arm.
We’ll have to wait a while to see if that hot streak continues into game three.
Lupul was handed a two-game suspension today by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a wildly blatant head shot on Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman in last night’s 4-2 Toronto win.
“As the video shows, after Hedman passes the puck, Lupul approaches from the side and recklessly targets Hedman’s head by elevating and making it the principal point of contact,” Rob Blake said in the DPS’ explanatory video.
By “elevating,” Blake means Lupul left the ice prior to making contact, which he pretty much had to do to avoid slamming into the 6-foot-6 Hedman’s elbow. But once a player “leaves his feet,” he’s asking for trouble from DPS.
Fortunately, Hedman wasn’t hurt on the play and that, combined with Lupul’s absence from the league’s Big Book O’ Mug Shots, added up to the two-gamer and the forfeiture of more than $45,000 in salary.
Was it a fair call? As the season goes on, it’s getting tougher and tougher to compare one suspension to another, but taken on it’s own merits, this one passes the smell test.
By Allan Muir
Corey Perry just earned the season’s first “message” suspension.
The Anaheim winger learned he’ll sit out four games and forfeit more than $115,000 in salary for his late hit on Minnesota’s Jason Zucker last night.
Brendan Shanahan conducted the hearing by phone, but it was Rob Blake, his Department of Player Safety cohort, who checked off all the obvious points in the video explanation: it was a late hit; Perry “recklessly made significant contact to the head of a player ineligible to be hit,” he had time to avoid or minimize it; Zucker was injured on the play; Perry had previously been suspended.
But the most interesting part of Blake’s presentation was this line: “In spite of the fact that all players need to be aware of their surroundings, it is perfectly reasonable that Zucker should no longer expect to be hit this long after possession.”
The whole “blame the victim” thing has long been a part of hockey culture. Honestly, I’m as guilty of it as anybody, because I was always taught that a player has a responsibility to keep his head up and stay alert, especially just after making a pass or taking a shot. If you’re dumb enough to stop to admire it, you’ll get what you deserve.
When I caught the replay, that was my initial reaction. If Zucker doesn’t take such a long look at his pass, he would have seen Perry in time and dodged the brunt of the hit.
But that’s wrong-headed thinking because all it does is validate opportunistic predation. Once a player has given up possession, he should have a reasonable expectation that he won’t be destroyed by a late hit.
I guarantee there will be plenty of disagreement with that since it essentially takes the onus off the victim to protect himself. But this doesn’t mean that players can’t finish their checks. It sets a standard that should eliminate the long runs like the one Perry made.
There should be punishment and prevention elements to any supplemental discipline decision. Shanny made an example out of a superstar-caliber player. Odds are the message won’t be overlooked.