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The Brad Stuart hit on Landeskog, and subsequent responses were a full blown comedy of errors. I have a ton of thoughts about the entire ordeal, so let's just take it from the top. If you haven't read this by Travis Hughes, a Flyers blogger, yet please do. It was fantastic. First, here's the hit:

Gabriel Landeskog: The kid made the mistake of slightly losing track of the puck for a split second and committing the unforgivable hockey sin of looking for it on the ice. If he really wanted to keep his brain he shouldn't have done that, apparently.

Brad Stuart & the Refs: I think one of the bigger obstacles to getting these hits out of the game is that anything that gets suspension is called dirty. Even in Travis Hughes' excellent article linked to above, he says the hit is "dirty". The problem with using that word is that it implies malicious intent, and I don't think Brad Stuart wanted to hurt Landeskog, I think he wanted to drop the boom.

 Brad Stuart is the symptom, not the problem. If this were an isolated incident then I might work up more ire at the guy, but he is making a hit that is both implicitly and subtly encouraged by the NHL and everyone involved. This hit is wrong and yet no one involved in the nuts and bolts of the NHL seems to think so, so it's going to continue. Different sweaters, different hurt players, but the same shoulder to head contact is going to keep happening, and we're all going to keep watching players get their heads nearly taken off.

That the NHL isn't really serious about eliminating players getting hit in the head is obvious in their rulebook. Here's rule 48 (headshots) (all emphases mine)

 


 

Rule 48 - Illegal Check to the Head

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. 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.

48.2 Minor Penalty - For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

48.3 Major Penalty - There is no provision for a major penalty for this rule.

48.4 Game Misconduct Penalty – There is no provision for a major penalty for 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.
         If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion.

48.6 Fines and Suspensions – Any player who incurs a total of two (2) game misconducts under this rule, in either regular League or playoff games, shall be suspended automatically for the next game his team plays. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game.


 Good Lord, the NHL has gone out of their way to absolve the hitter of any kind of responsibility for keeping his body and his actions in control. Why does the hitter bare no responsibility for his own actions unless he is purposely trying to hurt someone? Negligence isn't as bad as pre-meditated acts, but it's still bad. And more importantly dangerous. NHL players move upwards of 20mph and the puck can move upwards of 50mph on passes, and other players are getting their sticks in the way and the ice has funny divots and sometimes players have to look downwards to get it the puck, which is what happened to Landeskog here. It is beyond unreasonable to ask players to keep their head up at all times, even in the neutral zone. The onus can't be solely on the puck carrier to make the game safe.

If the head is the principle point of contact, it should be a 2 minute penalty, no matter what. If the player has to go to the 15 minute timeout, it should be 4 (this has the additional benefit of incentivising teams to actually check players. The refs should have the option to assess a 5 minute major as well (since charging calls are to NHL refs what RFA offer sheets are to NHL GMs).

Instead the NHL rulebook incentivizes the exact opposite. Brad Stuart went unpunished. Ryan O'Byrne, in answering the bell for Landeskog (long an unwritten rule, like skating through the neutral zone with your head down) was assessed 4 minutes, and all of a sudden the Avs are down 2-0. Why in the world would Brad Stuart ever be more careful in a future check, or any other player for that matter?

The Avs: The Avs do not escape scrutiny here. Gabriel Landeskog, only the most important player on the roster for the future of this club, and they let him play the rest of this game, should never have been allowed back in this game. A professional hockey player forgot his stick on his way to the bench. That's failing a pretty basic cognitive test folks. I don't care if he passed every concussion protocol there was. Sydney Crosby did too, then he missed the better part of 2 years after a completely innocuous hit. How the Avs can risk someone's health like that, let alone their most important player?

The NHL: The worst part about the NHL's response was that it was predictable. Even though the principle point of contact was the head (see below) and even though Brad Stuart launched himself into the hit they didn't even hold a hearing. Why even have a disciplinary commission. Exactly what there wasn't worthy of even looking at?


But don't worry. Everyone involved; the refs, the NHL, Stuart, even a foggy-headed Landeskog, said that hit was okay. Look, everyone inside the NHL thinks a hit where this is what the initial contact looks like:

 

Is a perfectly acceptable thing to happen to a hockey player on the ice. I'm not angry because it happened to my guy. I'm angry because it's going to happen again and again, and no one with any power to stop it cares.