For fans watching the Los Angeles Kings vs. New York Rangers game from Stockholm this afternoon on Versus, they were treated to a good old fashioned debate regarding dangerous hits and the growing number of suspensions around the league. Analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones took a look at a questionable hit by Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello in the first period during the Kings’ OT win—a hit that will probably be looked at by Brendan Shanahan and the league offices. Needless to say, the two former players have vastly different interpretations of the play in question and the penalty that is warranted.
One on side of the argument, there’s the players’ safety and the NHL’s efforts to remove this type of hit from the game. Time and time again, they’ve explained that hits in dangerous parts of the ice will be penalized—whether the contact between players was violent or not. In the league’s eyes, the contact with the boards is more important in these situations; the onus is on the offending player to avoid contact when the opponent is in a dangerous position.
On the other hand, there are some old-school hockey people around North America who are fearful that this stance is a slippery slope for the league to take. Their fear is that eventually players will be forced to avoid hits in all situations all over the ice—leading to a game without hitting. Anyone who has seen the all-star game will tell you that a game without hitting simply isn’t the same product.
Check out the video and let us know what you think in the comments. Do you agree that the league is on the right track and hits like Mats Zuccarello are suspendable offenses? Or do you think that Zuccarello’s hit is simply a part of hockey severe punishment could permanently damage the game?
Update (7:15 EST): League fined Zuccarello $2,500 for his push to the back of Kyle Clifford
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For the eight time in the 2011 preseason, new NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan handed out a suspension for an illegal hit. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith caught Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Smith (no relation) up high with his shoulder, earning himself a hefty punishment and leaving Chicago’s Smith day-to-day with a possible concussion.
Although Brendan stated that he didn’t intend to hit Ben Smith in the head, the puck-moving blueliner expressed remorse for the end result. Going beyond the players involved, the two teams seemed divided on the check. Chicago’s head coach Joel Quenneville believed it was an obvious illegal hit, while Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock wondered if Ben Smith put himself in a vulnerable position – at least to some extent.
Either way, Babcock and Brendan Smith alike agreed that the budding prospect needs to learn from this situation.
“It’s a high-risk play when someone tries to cut to the middle,” Brendan Smith said. “It’s not an illegal play on him, and actually, he made a great move. I was actually trying to catch him, because he kind of had a step. I’m going to have to learn from this, for sure. The game moves very quickly. I’m going to have to adjust to it and make sure that I’m in the right place at the right time, so that will never happen (again).”
“(The suspension) ruined my chances of being up here for the start of the season,” Brendan Smith said. “I kind of canceled myself out there, but it’s alright. They told me that I’ll get my chances (in Detroit). We’ll just have to deal with this first. It’s a maturity thing that I’m going to have to learn from.”
Credit Brendan Smith for giving Ben Smith a call to apologize for the hit, whether he believes it was malicious/illegal or not. Maybe it’s not enough to say you’re sorry, but it shows some class and humility to admit you’re wrong. The situation hurts both prospects; Brendan’s pain just isn’t as literal. Hopefully he – and many other players – will learn the best way to handle tough checking situations sooner rather than later.