If the NHL is serious about trying to eliminate hits to the head in an effort to ease the concussion epidemic, they need to come down with some sort of supplementary discipline, even in borderline cases.
As much as I tried to tweak Canucks fans on Twitter after the incident Tuesday night and with the postgame comments from that locker room, the game and the play was too fast for me to truly believe conspiracies about Jannik Hansen “targeting” Marian Hossa, who’d scored twice on Vancouver in the second period. Yes, it was scary seeing Hossa down on the ice, not moving, in practically the same spot as last April. But while Hansen took a careless, unpenalized whack at Dave Bolland’s ankle in these teams’ first meeting, this isn’t Raffi Torres, or Matt Cooke or even Alex Burrows we’re talking about. Hansen had two penalty minutes on the season coming in.
Brendan Shanahan’s official explanation went into detail about both players intending to play the airborne puck, then Hansen’s “careless elbow” taking aim at Hossa’s head once he realized Hossa had position. With no prior history, this is probably the reason Hansen got the one game he did. Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser wrote on tsn.ca how the only reason there was even a penalty called on the play was the officiating crew noticing Hossa staying down after the collision, and that he’d seen worse hits this season where nothing was called.
[Related: Hansen receives 1-game suspension for hit on Hossa]
For those comparing the hit to Duncan Keith’s elbow to Daniel Sedin last March (also involving a puck in the air), the previously not-suspended Hawk apologized, accepted the five-game punishment and moved on. Reading between the lines of what he said publicly, as well as the eye test, he was out to avenge Sedin’s hit on him earlier (which, in my opinion, did deserve a penalty, but wasn’t called). If a penalty was called there, maybe Keith moves on. You can totally see why Keith was upset, but can’t excuse the method of retribution.
What bothers me more in this Hansen case is the characterization by his coach that absolutely nothing was done wrong. Some may interpret it that way, but the league office obviously doesn’t agree and if anything, Alain Vigneault might be wise to lower the volume on Hansen’s innocence, particularly with how intense this rivalry already is. In the same shoes, Joel Quenneville might disagree but keep his argument to a minimum rather than stoke the fire on what’s perhaps the league’s most sensitive issue.
While I can’t agree with Vigneault or Fraser, there’s also an understanding in these rulings that the penalty takes into account the victimized player’s condition before the hearing even begins. If the league, in fact, checked with the Hawks to see how Hossa’s doing, let’s hope that’s a reflection of Hansen receiving just one game. We’ll have to see when the Hawks step onto the ice for practice Thursday and what’s said about, or by, Hossa once they step off. We can certainly hope his return is on the horizon.
This is a fast, physical game. Players who grew up by one set of rules are in the process of adjusting to the consequences of one body part connecting with another at full-speed. In order to get a safer mindset in place, you can’t find any ruling that’s not controversial for one side or the other. This one’s no different. It just depends which side you happen to be rooting for.