If you happened to catch the Canucks game (and why the heck would you have missed it), you saw Alex Edler demolish Kyle Clifford in the neutral zone. You also saw that Edler got himself a minor penalty for the hit and further to this, you got to see yours truly defend the call on Twitter. Now before you call for me to be drawn and quartered, take a look at the hit again (although you can disregard the Kings commentary).
When it first happens, the hit looks nice and clean regardless of Rule 48. Clifford has his head down and Edler simply skates through him. But when you look at the replay, you can see that Edler braced himself for the contact by raising his arm and leans into Clifford’s skating path prior to making contact. Old skool rules would classify this as a hit and I don’t argue, but new skool rules don’t and this is why:
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. – source
Although you can argue that there was no intent by Edler to make contact with Clifford’s head, it’s that fancy and/or that states it’s still a foul if the opponents head is the principle point of contact. Based on what I saw, that seems to be the case.
It gets even more interesting when you read the following:
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. – source
Based on the letter of the law, had Edler been penalized for a hit to the head, he would have received a five minute major and early shower – yet in what I believe was an effective use of game management, the referees instead gave him the minor for elbowing (where a provision for 2 minutes exists). This ensured that what could be seen as a “ticky tack” call wasn’t something that contributed to the outcome of the game. Clifford was fine, Edler served his time, and the game was resolved in the shootout.
All things being equal, I don’t believe this is the last we’ll see of this debate and in fact, I could see this rule work it’s way up to “skate in the blue paint” infamy. Players have always been told to skate with their heads up, to protect themselves, and in old time hockey to expect a hit like this to occur if you didn’t. I’m all for rules that protect a players health and hope I don’t see another hit like Matt Cooke’s for as long as I watch hockey. However, with the onus being shifted from the player laying out the hit to assume responsibility, I think we’re that much closer to seeing good solid contact being taken out of the sport.
And that’s just a bloomin’ shame.