How many times have you been talking to your friends about stuff going on in the hockey world and heard this argument: “He was given that suspension because of his reputation!” Maybe you’ve heard someone go to the: “there’s no way that would have happened if it was Ovechkin” card. While spinning the NHL’s Wheel of Justice, it’s become apparent that reputation and prior incidents have become a factor when Colin Campbell hands out punishments. But here’s the question that no one is asking: Is that OK?
There were 4 players that were involved in 5 questionable hits over the past weekend (yes, I’m including Friday into the “weekend” category like a college student). The reason that each and everyone one of these is questionable is because they were all dangerous. But what people need to do is separate “dangerous” from “legal.” The reality is that hockey is a dangerous game. You could say that blocking a slapshot is dangerous, but we’re not going to make 100 MPH shots from the point illegal, are we?
At some point when we are looking at fines and suspensions, there are other factors that we have to look at. Of course there are rules that you can look at—but isn’t that what penalties are for? When we’re talking about sitting guys out without pay, there needs to be more to it than just “it was a really hard penalty.”
Here are some things that I look at when I try to decide if a play warrants a suspension (in this order):
1. Intent: First and foremost, was there intent to injure? If there was, then there’s no punishment that’s too harsh.
2. League Precedent: How has the league treated similar plays in the past? Is the play in an area that the league is trying to make a statement? (i.e. Hits to the head)
3. Prior History: Is this a player that is constantly testing the limits of dirty play?
4. Recklessness: Did the player know that they’d be putting their opponent in a dangerous position? (Kneeing, play up against the boards, etc.)
The two most devastating hits were Mike Richards’ hit on David Booth and Tuomo Ruutu’s hit on Darcy Tucker. Both hits resulted in overnight visits to the hospital for the men on the receiving end of the blows—yet the punishments couldn’t have been any more contradictory.
First, Mike Richards completely destroyed David Booth in an open ice hit. He kept his elbows down and delivered a vicious check with his shoulder. Obviously, there was no intent as he was just delivering an open ice hit to a guy that was crossing the blue line. He doesn’t have any prior history. I have a hard time with the league giving a suspension for a check when the player COULD have made it much worse. If you start suspending players for regularly open ice hits, it’ll water down the game. However, if the league is going to make examples of hits to the head, then they can’t pick and choose who they punish and who goes free. It’s a hit to the head but could have been worse.
Campbell’s Ruling: No Punishment
VFMS Ruling: Fine
The Ruutu hit on Darcy Tucker pulled down a tougher ruling from Colin Campbell. The league has consistently penalized and suspended players for dangerous hits along the boards. Additionally, they’ve stated that there will be harsh penalties for any hits to the head. Ruutu’s dangerous hit was delivered both in a dangerous spot and to the head. It didn’t look like there was intent; otherwise the penalty would have been MUCH longer.
Campbell’s Ruling: 3 game suspension
VFMS Ruling: Approx 3 games suspension
Of the 4 hits over the weekend, Scuderi’s hit (while looking dangerous), had less intent than any of the other 3 hits. The play was literally within the context of the game. His job as a defenseman is to make sure that Chimera doesn’t get past him with the puck. He had Chimera lined up for a hip check against the boards. As the Blue Jacket forward saw the check coming, he lowered his shoulder so HE could deliver the contact. Scuderi simply went lower to avoid Chimera’s shoulder—thus making contact much lower than Columbus would have liked. When we put it up to the categories we established, it’s hard to justify the suspension that the Blue Jackets asked for. Was there intent to injure? No, he was just stopping a player with the puck. Does he have a history of dirty play? Absolutely not. Has the league ever suspended a player for a check where the player is leading with his ass? Not that I’m aware of (please let me know if there are examples). No, the league penalizes players when they lead with their knee, elbows or deliver a blow to the head.
Campbell’s Ruling: Fine
VFMS Ruling: No Punishment
The Steve Ott situation is easily the most complicated of the scenarios. The problem with Ott was that he was involved in not one, but TWO different plays that warranted consideration from the league office. While I think they might have got the punishment right, I think they completely fucked up the rationale. We’ll take these hits one at a time:
First, let’s look at the knee that Ott delivered to B.J. Crombeen. When the players were passing, Ott looked like he was trying to deliver a body check. As Crombeen saw the check coming and moved out of the way, it appears that Ott extends his leg to make knee-on-knee contact with the opposing forward. We’re talking about a player with a prior history, delivering an extremely dangerous play in an area that the league has tried to crack down on. Additionally, as hard as it is to prove “intent,” it certainly looked like he knew what he was doing when it happened. Let’s just say it was gray area. So what do you think should be the punishment?
Campbell’s Ruling: No Punishment
VFMS Ruling: 3-5 games
The second hit that we’ll look at is the hip check that Ott delivered to Carlo Colaiacovo in the 2nd period of the same game against the St. Louis Blues. It was an open-ice hit when he led with neither his knee nor his elbow. He didn’t deliver a blow to the head and it was nowhere near the boards. Colaiacovo wasn’t in a vulnerable position at all—so this should be pretty cut and dry, right? Body checks are still legal in the NHL, right?
Campbell’s Ruling: 2 game suspension
VFMS Ruling: No Punishment
At the end of the day, I’m only asking for the same thing that the players are asking for: consistency. Have a set of standards and thresholds, and then apply them universally to all players. Let us know what to expect—because predicting the Wheel of Justice is like predicting lottery numbers.
It’s not too much to ask, is it?