Last night, in a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, Braydon Coburn cross-checked Nikolai Antropov in the head (h/t to Puck Daddy).
Asked about a possible suspension, Flyers coach John Stevens said this:
“I would hope not. I asked him what happened and he thought he hit him more with his glove than anything else.”
Obviously, Stevens isn’t going to hang his player out to dry. Out of curiosity, though, what’s the difference between that play and the hit by Jesse Boulerice on Ryan Kesler? Both hits were cross-checks to the head, both were well away from the play, and both featured a Philadelphia Flyer retaliating against a player that had aggravated him earlier in the game (Antropov high-sticked Coburn, Kesler hooked and slashed Boulerice).
The obvious difference, of course, is the name of the player involved. We’ve seen the NHL’s double-standard at work repeatedly over the years (the best example probably being the suspensions handed out to Chris Simon and Chris Pronger for similar incidents).
It’s been a funny month for the NHL – the thirty G.M.’s recommended a rule change that would crack down on fighting, and certain people in the hockey world feel that it should be taken out of the game entirely. Meanwhile, Paul Kelly and the NHLPA submitted a proposal that would see shoulder checks to the head penalized; the objective being to prevent “clean” hits like the one that sidelined Brandon Sutter.
Does anyone else find it odd that two plays that have been a legitimate part of hockey for years are seeing movements to curtail them, but at the same time it seems like we have a stick to the head incident at least once a season? Aside from the Flyers incident above, there was Alexander Perezhogin’s hit on Garrett Stafford, and Chris Simon’s slash on Ryan Hollweg. It’s only a matter of time before one of these incidents kills or seriously injures somebody – and the worst part of it is, these aren’t hockey plays, these are assaults. Admittedly, the Coburn incident isn’t as brutal as some of these others, but he’s still using his stick to hit a guy in the head far away from the puck.
It isn’t a play that should be tolerated in any of its forms. The NHL has removed non-hockey plays from the game with harsh disciplinary rules before – things like contact with the referee, line brawls and the like have been completely eliminated from the game. In my opinion, intentionally hitting a guy in the head with a stick should fall into that category as well, and I think the best way to do it is obvious. Institute a new rule this summer, with a mandatory suspension for those sorts of plays. Make it a career damaging suspension – at least 25 games, possibly as long as 82 games.
There isn’t any place in hockey for players who hit people in the head with their stick. At least, there shouldn’t be.