It seems that last night’s games from the NHL didn’t provide much news to write about. Granted there were only three games played so it was evident that an issue like this would crop up. The issue on everybody’s lips is the hit by L.A. Kings’ captain Dustin Brown on Minnesota Wild forward Antti Miettinen. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Miettinen and he is one of the most resilient players and generally a down to earth guys I’ve met in my time following hockey and the NHL. If there was an end of season award for the least cocky person Miettinen would consistently be on the nominees list. And no I don’t mean the Lady Byng trophy.
However, the hit was a prototypical, text book hit that the NHL is trying to weed out of the game. Last season we saw Matt Cooke pretty much destroy Marc Savard’s 2010-2011 season, if not career, by a very similar hit. This season has seen a relatively high number of hits to the head given the stage of the season we are in. Either because there have been so many of such incidents or because the issue is on everybody’s lips.
We’ve seen Kris Letang level Blake Comeau in similar fashion, we’ve seen Shane Doan do it to Dan Sexton. In all cases ) the players have been ejected from the game in line with the NHL’s new rule of Illegal hits to the head.
It is great to see that the referees are enforcing the issue and are not afraid to call the penalties (5min major and a game misconduct), but the only line that is somewhat un-predictable is the NHL itself. Doan got three games, Letang got none. In Letang’s case the NHL decided, upon review, that the shoulder did not make contact with the head and therefore saw it fit that Letang face no more punishment.
With the Brown-Miettinen hit though, several broadcasters, including TSN have shown on its highlight reels in super slow motion with arrows and all on how Brown’s shoulder makes contact with Miettinen’s head. Painful hit, no doubt, but Miettinen was right back up on his feet after the hit and did not miss a shift.
The question now is how many games will Brown get, if at all? Some say that because the hit didn’t cause any visible or significant injury Brown should not be suspended, but some say that according to the new rule he should serve a suspension as the shoulder did make contact with the head and that the hit was from a blind corner.
If Brown does not get anything, the NHL will have under minded its new rule and players we might see an increase in high hits or hits to the head that might be intentional but not so hard as to injure a player. If Brown escapes suspension, every player from that point forwards will be arguing his case and defending himself, almost in child like fashion as to say “well you didn’t suspend Brown, these are the reasons why you shouldn’t suspend me.”
To really make the hits to the head rule a force in the NHL and make sure it is enforced. Brown should serve a suspension of between 2-3 games to keep it in line with similar incidents seen this season (case and point Doan-Sexton).
I’m not saying that Brown is a dirty player. He plays hard and he plays clean usually. It is unfortunate that it has happened to him, and that the league might have to make him into an example, but the fact remains that unless the rule is forced to the letter, hits to the head will be a force in the NHL and we might see talented guys’ careers come to an abrupt end.
For reference the rules on hits to the head are as follow:
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.
48.2 Minor Penalty – There is no provision for a minor penalty for this rule.
48.3 Major Penalty – For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).
48.4 Game Misconduct – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.
48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.
48.6 Fines and Suspensions – Any player who incurs a total of two (2) game misconducts under this rule, in either regular League or playoff games, shall be suspended automatically for the next game his team plays. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game.