There appears to be a new kind of dangerous hit in the NHL right now.
Over the years, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DOPS) has made some many controversial rulings, whether it be suspending a player for too long, or not suspending a player long enough or at all. It is an impossible job to have if you are a people pleaser, as there is never a time everyone will agree with a suspension or lack thereof.
There is no doubt that over the years the game has gotten much cleaner as the DOPS has done their best to eliminate both headshots and blindside hits. This is quite noticeable if you were ever to watch a game from the 1980’s or 90’s, where you will see many high, unnecessary hits that often times went completely unpunished. Many of these same hits would result in lengthy suspensions in today’s NHL. Look no further than Scott Stevens, who’s entire career consisted of thunderous body checks that back then were considered great hockey plays.
Those types of hits are no longer acceptable in today’s game, as it has become more and more clear over the years what these predatory head hits can do to a player’s health, not only at the time but years down the road. The NHL took action during the 2010-11 season, implementing Rule 48 as an attempt to eliminate both high and unnecessary hits from the game. Take this Raffi Torres hit for example.
Twenty or so years ago, it is likely this hit would have resulted in a penalty and nothing more. However, the NHL, who were doing their best to eliminate these hits all together, wanted to make an example of Torres who had already received supplemental discipline multiple times by the league for similar plays. When this ruling was announced by former Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan, it marked the fourth longest suspension in NHL history. Unfortunately, Torres still didn’t learn his lesson and had to be reprimanded yet again for another ugly hit just a few years later.
Thankfully in recent years, the league hasn’t seen as many ugly hits, and certainly haven’t seen the same extent of repeat offenders. It is becoming more and more clear players are aware of the rules, and are doing their best to avoid hits where their opponent is in a vulnerable position. Of course, there are still hits that are suspension worthy throughout any given season and, unfortunately, due to the speed of the game they are not likely to ever go completely away, but it is encouraging nonetheless to see them slowly making their way out of the game.
There is a new predatory hit in the NHL
While the NHL has done their best to eliminate headshots, it seems that George Parros — who became the Head of the Department of Player Safety in 2017—has completely forgot about another: hits from behind.
Long before headshots became illegal in the NHL, the one play everyone knew wasn’t allowed was hitting an opponent into the boards when you could see his numbers. These hits over the years have often resulted in five-minute majors and, in unfortunate cases, can cause serious injuries to players. Due to the harm they can cause, players are taught at a very young age not to hit their opponents from behind, and often in minor hockey you can find ‘Stop’ patches above numbers on jerseys.
Despite everyone knowing the dangers of these hits however, there are plenty happening this season. To make matters even worse, it seems nearly all of them are going unpunished by both the refs as well as the DOPS. Take both Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher for example. The first time these two teams met this season, Nurse gave Gallagher a dangerous ride into the boards that resulted in just a two-minute minor and nothing more.
Had the NHL gone further to punish this hit, perhaps that would have been the end of things. Instead, nothing was done, and Gallagher decided to get some revenge of his own the very next game with a hit that seemed even more reckless, yet still resulted in just a two-minute penalty.
Gallagher and Nurse are far from the only two delivering these types of checks either. If you have tuned into games this season, you will likely have noticed these types of hits are seemingly becoming more and more common, often happening once if not multiple times a game. To make matters even worse, some aren’t even being penalized with a two-minute minor like the two clips above. This hit delivered by Jalen Chatfield of the Vancouver Canucks on Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot garnered neither a penalty nor any type of supplemental discipline.
The hit above going uncalled is unsettling, given that the referees would have had a clear view of it with the puck having come into Kerfoot’s possession just prior to the check being delivered. Again, as mentioned above, these not being called are no longer rare occurrences either. They are happening more and more often. While tuning into the Oilers game versus the Ottawa Senators a few nights ago, I noticed a similar check delivered to Jesse Puljujarvi that also went uncalled.
This hit certainly isn’t as dangerous as the Chatfield one above, but could have resulted in a bad injury nonetheless. Of course, there is an onus on the player being hit to not turn last second, something that is also taught to players at a very young age. Still, injuries can come as a result of these hits, and the NHL needs to do more to protect vulnerable players before something bad comes from a hit from behind.
It should be noted that the NHL isn’t allowing all hit from behinds go unpunished. This violent collision between Minnesota Wild forward Kevin Fiala and L.A. Kings defenseman Matt Roy resulted in a three-game suspension for Fiala.
While this hit resulting in a suspension is the proper call, it shouldn’t have to be this violent for the league, or at least the on ice officials, to take action on less severe but still potentially dangerous checks from behind. If this continues to go unpunished, these hits will continue and, eventually, somebody will get seriously hurt. We need to hope that is not what happens in order for these hits to make their way out of the game and out of the National Hockey League.