It seems that now is a better time than any to talk about dangerous hits and the NHL’s supplementary discipline program. After this week’s devastating Eric Gryba hit on Lars Eller the internet has exploded with various opinions on the event. What makes the hit so interesting is that it is the perfect example of the grey area the NHL has to deal with regarding suspensions. I don’t believe Eric Gryba intended to injure Lars Eller, but I do believe that it was a dangerous hit, and I find myself for the first time in a long time (twice this playoffs after the Ference suspension) in agreement with the NHL’s course of action. Let’s break down the hit itself, and how that pertains to the NHL’s assessment of dangerous hits. Of the videos I’ve seen of Brendan Shanahan explaining suspensions, the one constant is the phrase “principle point of contact”, namely that, in order to warrant suspension the head must be where the majority of the force of the hit is directed. Regardless of team loyalty, I think that Habs, Sens and all hockey fans can agree that Lars Eller head received the brunt of the force of the hit, and by that standard, it warranted suspension.
The one argument you frequently hear against suspension, and I touched on it earlier, is that the culprit’s intent was not to injure the opponent, or that initially the head wasn’t targeted. I think that’s a fair point, but one that, with regards to awarding suspensions, needs to be secondary. If these new rules were brought in to curb the amount of concussions in the NHL then the focus, when analyzing these events, needs to be on how the hit was delivered. Was it high and to the head? Then it probably warrants a suspension regardless of whether the player meant to deliver the hit in that manner. And just to be clear, this isn’t to say that accidents never happen. The point I’m making is that there needs to be accountability and a culture change amongst players so that one day we can hear someone say “No, I didn’t mean to injure him, but the hit I delivered was against the rules and I accept responsibility for my actions”. In the event of a hit to the head being delivered without intent to injure the suspension should by all means be reduced, but there still needs to be a suspension. There still needs to be action against this type of behaviour. Just the same as how we charge people with manslaughter (hyperbolic, eh?) when intent to kill is absent, we need to be willing to suspend players for hits to the head when intent to injure is absent.
Another frequented defense of those who have delivered hits to the head is that the player who was hit was in a vulnerable position. This one is particularly popular in regards to the Eric Gryba-Lars Eller hit. Eller had his head down after receiving what was, admittedly, a suicide pass. The question I pose in response to this is, does that mean he deserved it? Is there any action a player takes that causes him to be deserving of an injury? These hits can result in life changing injuries, injuries that can follow players well beyond their playing careers, I don’t think I can stress that enough. Hockey is a physical game, one that on occassion results in devastating injuries. Teaching players, particularly at the younger ages, about the dangers of the game should be encouraged but it is naive to put the blame on them for not expecting a possibly career ending injury. If it is insisted (as it is so often by Don Cherry and the like) that players keep their heads up in order to avoid injury, shouldn’t it also be instilled in players not to attempt to inflict injury on others? When it comes down to it, nothing Lars Eller did invited a hit. Nothing Lars Eller did meant that it was okay for him to end the night with a broken nose and possibly a concussion. Eric Gryba delivered the hit, and as I’ve said already, I don’t believe he meant to injure, but a hit to the head needs to be called for what it is.