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Tom Kostopoulos handed six-game suspension for blindside hit; was it the right call?

Jan 9, 2011, 4:50 PM EDT

Craig Anderson, Tom Kostopoulos

The NHL’s crackdown on blindside hits has gotten plenty of discussion this year thanks to the addition of Rule 48 to the NHL rulebook. Calgary’s Tom Kostopoulos got to find out just how serious the NHL is taking things regarding things as he’s been given a six-game suspension for delivering a blindside shot to the head of Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart. Stuart’s jaw was broken by the hit and he’s out for 6-8 weeks.

In the NHL’s statement on why they levied such a harsh punishment on Kostopoulos, there’s a snippet in there that’s making our collective eyebrows raise. From the NHL’s press release:

“A number of factors were considered in reaching this decision,” said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell.

“Kostopoulos delivered a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player. As well, he targeted the head of his opponent and, while the hit was not from the blindside, the head was the principle point of contact. The fact that Brad Stuart was not in possession of the puck when the blow was delivered and the serious nature of the player’s injury were also considered in my decision.”

The key for any and all punishment handed out by the NHL is that it’s the action that should be punished and not the result. The result in this case was a heinous injury to an unsuspecting player. The action, of course, was a disgusting act of gross negligence on the part of Tom Kostopoulos in taking a run at a player that had no way of protecting himself from the hit during the course of play.

Considering that the league made it apparent that they took Stuart’s injury into account when handing down this action is just mind-numbing when you consider previous instances where players suffered a horrible injury and the offending players came away with a slap on the wrist because taking the after effects into account wasn’t fair to make a clear judgment.

So which is it then? The NHL can’t have their cake and eat it too when it comes to these sorts of things. We all want the league to be able to get things right when punishing players that run afoul of the law, but when you see guys like Matt Cooke get away with knocking Marc Savard out for months without so much as a one-game punishment and then see a hit like this on Stuart and Kostopoulos get hammered for it you have to wonder just how smokey the smokey room is where Colin Campbell and Mike Murphy make these decisions.

Again, it’s tough to get crazy about how the NHL goes about making these decisions because it’s always something new and different in each situation. After all, we’ve seen three different players sucker punch an opponent and all three players received different punishment from the league. All we’re looking for is consistency from the front office on these matters and the fact is that there is none. In this case, Calgary loses a fourth line player for six games while the Red Wings are without a top four defenseman for up to two months. The NHL may think they’re sending a message on this punishment, but it might not be the one they’re intending.

  1. polegojim - Jan 9, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    Absolutely the right call – 100% Cowardly.

    I’m all about hard hits and checks, but man up when you line up, and head shot like that deserves the worst possible penalty, and a butt whooping when you hit the ice again.

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