Coaches with different perspectives regarding the Smith on Smith hit

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Brendan Shanahan has been the busiest man in the NHL throughout the course of the preseason in hopes of establishing a strict precedent to deter headshots. Apparently, the message hasn’t been sent to all of the players quite yet. Seriously, Brendan Shanahan’s videos are going to be eligible for syndication before the regular season starts—yet players can’t remember what it’s all about.

In a play that is a textbook example of the type of hit the NHL is trying to eliminate this season, Red Wings’ defenseman Brendan Smith’s skated across the ice and made contact with Blackhawks’ forward Ben Smith’s head. Forget the notion of principle contact: the only contact the Wings blueliner made was with the head. The Hawks’ Smith laid on the ice while he tried to collect his marbles and figure out the correct answer to the question “where are you?”

No doubt this type of play will be Shanahan’d by the end of the week. Here’s a handy link for anyone who wants to see the hit in question. (Hit occurs at 0:50 mark)

It’s interesting to see the varying opinions from each team in the aftermath of such a hit. Both Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville and Wings’ headman Mike Babcock had ice-level vantage points for the headshot. Yet in the postgame press conference, the tone of their comments were certainly dissimilar. First, Quenneville’s comments:

“Both referees said that’s a classic example of what we’re talking about — the illegal hit. It was pretty black-and-white.

“This is what we’re trying to get away from. When you’re in open ice, it’s a 1-on-1 play. It’s tough to get a hit like that. I don’t know if you should be protecting your head when you’re basically in a tight area with one guy.”

From the Wings’ locker room, the question was more about Ben Smith’s responsibility to protect himself at all times. Despite Shanahan repeatedly explaining that the onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid contact with the head, Wings’ coach Mike Babcock wondered if the Hawks’ Smith was partially to blame for the situation. Here is Babcock’s perspective of the hit:

“Is there any responsibility on the puck carrier — toe dragging, sliding sideways — to look after himself. I’m not saying our guy isn’t guilty, but you’d better not put yourself in those situations.

“He (Brendan Smith) was trying to make body contact, but their guy did this and left his head there.” Babcock added, while jerking his head to the side to imitate Ben Smith’s motion just before the impact.

A quick disclaimer: Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in NHL and has been for the last decade. He could win the Jack Adams Trophy every single year and it would be a deserved award. But in this case, Babcock is dead wrong. He asks the rhetorical question “is there any responsibility on the puck carrier?”

The answer: No.

This is precisely the point. The game is changing. The rules are changing, the way it’s being officiated is changing, and how the players are being disciplined is changing. The old-school way most of us were brought up, would say that the player needs to keep his head up to protect himself and avoid any potential injury. The current climate renders that line of reasoning pointless.

The sooner the coaches accept it, the sooner the players will accept it. The sooner the players accept it, the sooner these kinds of hits are eliminated from the game. Apparently we still have a ways to go.