When you play baseball, you can tell when a hit is going for the wall. There’s a certain feeling in the bat, that perfect connection between two objects in motion, and the feel of it says, “Bye-bye.”
Slap shots in hockey have the same feel to them when you “get all of it.” Pros have that feeling pretty much every shot. My slap shot sucks, so I felt it maybe twice in my years of amateur hockey.
But hits can have that same eerie resonance to them as well. Those I was good at. My favorite setup was catching a forward skating towards me, looking back over his shoulder to catch a pass. Happened maybe once per season. Time it just right, and you drop a shoulder into his sternum at the exact instant the puck hits his stick — BOOM. He goes down like he’s been hit in the chest by a wrecking ball.
That was the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. You could see it on the replays: he dropped like a stone. After his head ricocheted off the boards a couple of times, I mean.
Late Tuesday Niklas Hjalmarsson received a two-game suspension for the hit on Pominville. I had guessed three. During the preceding 12 hours I had heard the Old-Time-Hockey chorus around Chicago chiming in that they didn’t think it even deserved a penalty, let alone a suspension. Similarly, the Buffalo faithful were advocating that the league throw the book at him. That’s to be expected.
I actually read some barely-literate chucklehead comment on TSN.ca and suggest a suspension of 40 games. Holy bird turds, it’s pro hockey, not powderpuff soccer. Get a grip.
Let’s deal with the not-even-a-penalty suggestion first. From the NHL rule book, “Rule 41″ and “Rule 42″ respectively:
Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
“Charging: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”
The ref had both of these as options for the Hjalmarsson hit, as the play very easily met both of these descriptions. It was called on the ice as a boarding major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. So it’s quite plain to all but the most biased observer that *some* penalty should have been called — and it was.
There is also the new “Rule 48″ which addresses blind-side and/or head-targeted hits, which is new this year:
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.
The league would have announced this as the cause for the suspension if that were the case, since it would have been the first one they ruled on. They made no such announcement, so I have to believe they did not feel the hit fell into the description as noted above. I think most casual observers would agree with that assessment.
So: not a blind-side hit, no intent to injure, not targeting the head, then why the suspension? In my opinion, it’s a question of PR.
This hit made the news. It was likely shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, because they love good video that they can slow down and make viewers watch as bodily parts do things they were never intended to do in the interest of sport, while commentators who know precious little about hockey at all say, “Yeah Dave, that’s gonna leave a mark.”
It would have made the Buffalo newscasts, and other hockey markets as well. The follow up stories (when they show the hit and Pominville’s stretcher-bound exit yet again) will tell everyone that Pominville suffered a concussion, needed 8 stitches, and will be out a minimum of a week. This presents a PR problem for the league. There’s really no provision in the rule book that justifies a suspension per se, but they can’t do nothing.
If the league lets Hjalmarsson off with no suspension, then sports columnists and commentators get on their high horse about the league turning a blind eye to the needless violence that is now making a comeback. Next thing you know there’s some fool-idiot petition circulating about stopping innocent children from playing or watching hockey. And Lord love a duck, if Don Cherry says something about it on Hockey Night in Canada, then just look out. Every time that old bastard opens his mouth it’s as if somebody had skated to center ice and set a basket of kittens on fire.
Understand that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff. If you’re reading this, you can likely quote the number of games Alexander Ovechkin got for the hit that sidelined Brian Campbell last year. But 99% of the people who only see the news reports about this incident and don’t follow hockey at all. So because these people have the attention span of a gnat, the league only has one shot at controlling the message.
The only way to do that is to move quickly and give the appearance of firm and definitive action. Get the suspension, whatever it is, done quickly — and make sure it’s made public before the 6pm news sportscast goes on the air. You’ll notice that was the precise timing for this announcement.
The league brings this on itself. The rules of the game don’t — and can’t — accommodate for every single circumstance. So when something new or unique comes up, they have to wing it. This opens up debates precisely like this one, and because of the completely secretive and often-times incomprehensible means by which they choose whom and what to punish, they look like idiots, and the sport looks like a joke.
But in the absence of a set of rules that turns hockey into basketball (MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!) we’re going to have to put up with this.
So, Niklas, enjoy your two games off, have some press box popcorn, and we’ll see you next week.
* * * * *
In other news, the league also handed out a two-game suspension to Islanders’ defenseman James Wisniewski, for being a dick-head.
As suspected, Niklas Hjalmarsson has been suspended for two games for his bone-crushing hit on Jason Pominville, according to TSN. I thought it would only be one game, personally, but the NHL gave two games to James Wisniewski today for making a blowjob gesture on the ice. I guess nearly killing someone — intent be damned — is worth at least a blowjob.
Anyway, we’ll have more thoughts on this later.
My nice new job allows me access to screenshots of the box scores, so I thought I’d take advantage and try to put something together for last night’s Blackhawks opener vs. the Colorado Avalanche.
I’m going to try and do this as much as I can this season. Can’t guarantee I’ll get to it every single game. Sorry if the font is a bit small, but it’s definitely readable. Let me know what everyone thinks.
Watching the replay of the Blackhawks’ 4-2 pre-season loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, I noticed something very strange. Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk clearly were announcing the game the entire time. Apparently, Comcast disagreed. Have a look:
Much like the Blackhawks, Comcast isn’t immune to needing some exhibitions. Luckily this intern will have another chance tonight to prove his/her worth before Comcast makes it’s first roster cuts.
Igor Makarov has received such high praise through the Prospects Tournament and beginning of camp, you’d think some people have actually forgotten about the off-season purge — if only for a minute.
Tonight, we’ll see how Makarov fares against some established pros and others fighting for roster spots.
I can only think to nickname the Russian-born forward Makarov Cocktail (Get it? Like Molotov Cocktail?) the way he’s exploded onto the scene with the big boys after being destined for Rockford when camp broke. Because of all the hype, Cocktail is giving me more of a reason to plan my night around a Blackhawks preseason game.
There’s no reason the kid can’t make the roster with what he’s shown so far according to QStache, who’s been singing his praises. Though I haven’t seen him in person, the talk I’m gathering from his speed and quick trigger sounds like a Kris Versteeg-type guy, which means there will be a lot to be desired in other aspects of the game. But if Cocktail can put the puck in the net over the course of the preseason like he’s been doing so far in camp, he’ll get his shot with the big club.
But let’s not pencil in Makarov just yet. Given Makarov’s raw skill set, players like Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg rank ahead of Cocktail in the competition for a top-6 spot. If Cocktail doesn’t crack the top-6 when the preseason concludes, look for him to be sent to Rockford to develop his scoring touch a bit more while working harder on the defensive end. There’s a possibility Cocktail gets a shot on the third line if Patrick Sharp centers the second line, leaving Dave Bolland centering the third. Makarov will need a solid passer who can find him at the right moments to score, and Cocktail may only be trusted with either Sharp or Bolland — and of course Jonathan Toews, but the top line is out of the question.
Cocktail gets another chance to impress QStache tonight when the ‘Hawks take on Tampa Bay tonight in Winnipeg. Look for Tim Currell’s preview later this afternoon.
√ Anyone have a few million bucks lying around? Lame-duck goalie Cristobal Huet has listed his River North condo for $3 million. Later, dude.
√ Tim Sassone puts in his two cents for Bickell.
√ Just so everyone doesn’t go around hanging themselves after a loss, Fifth Feather has your Idiot’s Guide to the Pre-Season.
Multiple reports surfaced this morning the Blackhawks have signed coach Joel Quenneville’s mustache to a contract extension, which will be announced at a 2:30 p.m. CST news conference. QStache was entering the final year of his current deal with the ‘Hawks.
No question QStache deserves it. He’s 97-44-19 since taking over the ‘Hawks from Denis Savard four games into the 2008-09 season in which QStache led the team to a Western Conference Finals appearance. He won a President’s Trophy in St. Louis, had good success in Colorado and shook the playoff-choke label by winning the Stanley Cup last season. QStache obviously knows what the hell he’s doing, and I’m happy he’ll be doing it here in Chicago for at least a few more years.
As I wrote the other day, QStache faces a difficult test behind the bench this season with a revamped roster. But I’ll say this: There’s not many other coaches in the world I’d rather have doing it — despite his constant renditions of Musical Lines.
Congrats, Coach Q.