29 December 2011

The forgotten mantras of the Department of Player Safety

Sorry, I'm going to be opening some wounds to State of Hockey fans, but this needs to be said about the Head of the Department of Player Safety.

Remember when this rule meant something...

From NHL Official Rules - Rule 41.1 - Boarding (emphasis mine)

The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize the contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. 
"The onus is on the hitter." had been the so-called Department of Player Safety's mantra in the dozens of suspensions so far (as indicated by the first part I underlined).  It appears they have given up on that, at least where the Minnesota Wild is concerned.  There are now three well known examples...

1) Bogosian on Bouchard (click here for Hockey Wilderness' breakdown on this incident and video)

The Department of Player Safety didn't even make a formal statement regarding the Bogosian hit on Bouchard.  An anonymous Departement of Player Safety rep told the Star Tribune's Michael Russo they felt Bouchard turned into it.  Does it get any more vague than that?  No justification for why Bogosian can use his stick there?  This lazy statement is certainly not enough to show the onus shifted from Bogosian to Bouchard regarding who was responsible for this incident (again, as in the first underlined part in the rule quoted above).

I thought this era was supposed to be about transparency.  I thought it was about following the words in the rulebook above and using video to show how this should apply, not about lazy statements from a nameless lackey.

Punishing recklessness is another mantra that the department of player safety has given up on.  The fact that Bogosian led with his stick is apparently no longer considered reckless.

Bouchard misses two weeks as a result of an ILLEGAL hit, and the only explanation is one sentence from an anonymous source, and no suspension.  Pathetic.

[two more examples follow the jump]

2) Petrell on Zidlicky (video from YouTube, stick tap to user Fel0096)

At least in this incident the Head of the Department of Player Safety had the decency to issue a tweet.

I'll admit I'm not as outraged by this one as the other two examples in this post.  Petrell definitely shoves him, though it doesn't look like much of a shove.  To be honest, I almost buy no need for a suspension here, but then the Head of the Department of Player Safety insults Wild fans excusing this by mentioning a "toe pick."

Look again at Rule 41.1 above.  Look carefully in case I missed it, but I don't see the "Toe Pick" exception anywhere. If he is implying that Zid tripped over his feet, the video doesn't show that.  If it did it would be impossible to determine whether or not it was a result of Petrell's reckless shove.

3) McLeod on Spurgeon (story from Russo in this morning's Star Tribune)
Shanahan said, "We didn't feel there was any extra force behind the hit. It was more of a big man coming in on a forecheck and colliding with another man that stepped in front of him to try to stop and shield the puck."
I don't know what the head of the Department of Player safety sees here claiming Spurgeon stepped in front of McLeod.  As the video shows (again stick tap to YouTube user Fel0096) Spurgeon turns toward the end board at the top of the circles for gosh sakes! A good 30 feet away!  There is no way in hell this meets the standard of  Spurgeon putting himself  in a vulnerable position "immediately prior" to the hit. (If it truly were a case of Spurgeon turning at the last moment that would be a case of the onus shifting to Spurgeon, not McLeod).  McLeod had plenty of time to minimize the contact, or target an area other than the numbers, he chose not to.  There was a time the head of the Department of Player safety would have deemed this reckless, and therefore requiring supplemental discipline.  Again, this seems to be a forgotten mantra.


I'd hate to think this disregard of the rules as written is because of the jersey these three players wear.  But the Wild have had three players miss time with preventable injuries, and no more than four sentences of explanation from the Department of Player Safety.  That's not transparency, that's the voodoo of his predecessor (which inspired nhlwheelofjustice.com, and of course Down Goes Brown's famous suspension flowchart).  I guess I should be grateful he was kind enough to produce a three minute video explaining why Bouchard needed to be punished for an action the Blue Jacket's Calvert completely brought on himself, though.

Excuses like "toe picks," and vague "he turned into it" claims are unacceptable. Now with the Spurgeon hit, he has demonstrated blatant disregard for the latter clause in rule 41.1 (2nd underlined part) requiring a turn to be immediately prior to the hit to change the onus demonstrates a willingness to bend the written rules to fit his instincts.

I know Mr. Leipold and Mr. Fletcher, can't say so publicly, but I certainly hope they are chirping the hell out of Bettman to get this guy removed.  He has turned his back (pun intended) on transparency, he has turned his back on using the new rules written as was his mandate.  The optimism about player safety that I expressed before the season died after the Bouchard incident, I just wonder how many more players the Minnesota Wild will lose to reckless acts without any response?

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