Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I still have a bone to pick with you regarding your officiating during an Avs and Kings game back in the late 90s. That said, I've really become a fan of yours since reading your column!
Late in the third period of the game one between Chicago and Los Angeles, Dave Bolland took a run at Mike Richards who was behind the net with the puck. Richards was coming around and trying to stuff the puck home.
I watched and rewound and watched the play several times. Bolland appears to leave his feet, but it's hard to tell because he leaned forward, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. But he definitely elevates his body in an upward direction, and the principal point of contact was the head of Mike Richards. In addition, Richards appears to have been injured on the play. Why was this not at the very least a penalty, and possibly a suspension?
We keep hearing that the league wants to crack down on shots to the head but there seems to be no consistency. Not only was a penalty not called, but it appears as of this writing that no suspension will be forthcoming either.
Five years ago I wouldn't be sending this email. It would have been a good hit and that would be the end of it. But the league has decided to crack down on hits to the head – unless it's the third period of a playoff game. In your opinion, did the hit warrant a penalty and/or suspension?
Thank you for this well worded and thought provoking question. The reality is that the elevated hit delivered by Dave Bolland, and which resulted in Mike Richards' head becoming the principal point of contact, is currently deemed an acceptable hockey hit by virtue of specific language contained in two relevant rules. The same reasoning and standard of enforcement almost always carries forward in the supplemental discipline process as well.
To enhance "player safety" I firmly believe the time has come to readjust the language and thought process on elevated hits where the head of an opponent receives the majority of the impact. We should not be parsing words as "upper body injuries" continue to result from these types of hits but instead tackle the problem head on with a consistent approach.
I watched in real-time as Bolland delivered the hit on Richards. Even prior to the replay being shown I sent out the following tweet; "Bolland left his feet big time to hit Richards. Wish that would be called charging."
While "big time" was somewhat over reactive, the replay clearly demonstrated that Bolland elevated his body with his right skate well off the ice and the toe/tip of his left skate blade in contact with the ice at the instant of impact. Bolland's elevation, combined with Mike Richards' lowered posture to play the puck resulted in a solid hit to Richards' head. If you freeze frame as the two players meld together in contact both of Bolland's skates are clearly off the ice.
Rule 41.1 (charging) calls for a minor or major penalty to be assessed on a player who skates or jumps into an opponent. Historically "skates off the ice" has fallen into the "jump" portion of this rule and resulted in a penalty. As elevated hits have been delivered with much more frequency it also became acceptable for the hitters' skates to leave the ice at the moment of contact or afterward; even as in this case the contact with the ice was with the toe of one skate blade! As body momentum is moving upward it is often very difficult to determine the instant a players skates leave the ice and the Referee's primary focus in on the upper extremities of both players.
Moving on to rule 48 (illegal check to the head) we find it describes a hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. The next statement in the rule; "However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered" clouds the decision making process for both the Referee and the Player Safety Committee. This places considerable onus on the player receiving the hit if he lowers or alters his body position to make a legitimate play.
Mike Richards assumed a lower body posture as he tried to jam the puck past Corey Crawford on a wrap-around. While there was no need for Dave Bolland to elevate and check in an upward fashion given his opponents lowered head position, the parsing of words found in the rule makes it more acceptable to do so. The hitter more often than not receives a free pass on hits like this but the end result is often the same - significant contact to the head and a resulting concussion.
John to answer your question directly I want a charging minor penalty assessed on this play and in all cases where a player leaves his skates to check up to the head of an opponent. Until the parsing of words is eliminated it will be inconsistently applied on the ice and in the board room other than in the most obvious cases like Justin Abdelkader's launch on Toni Lydman.
Forcing players to keep their skates on the ice through a hit can only help reduce contact to the head. The skates are a great place to focus some meaningful attention in an effort to crack down on needless head hits.