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Nothing makes sense: Chris Kunitz and Steve Downie each receive one-game suspensions

Apr 19, 2011, 2:46 PM EDT

Steve Downie AP

Yesterday we saw Vancouver’s Raffi Torres get away without punishment for a vicious shot to the head of Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. While that hit was excused on an odd technicality of sorts with Colin Campbell saying that they “never intended to eliminate that kind of hit” from the game. The sort of hit where players are speeding around behind the net and thigns can just happen.

Fast forward to this afternoon where both Lightning forward Steve Downie and Penguins forward Chris Kunitz each had a hearing with the NHL regarding dubious hits from last night’s Game 3 that saw the Penguins come out on top 3-2. Kunitz connected with Simon Gagne on a dirty roaring elbow to the back of Gagne’s head reminiscent of things we’ve seen from one particular teammate of Kunitz’s. Downie delivered a huge hit to Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy that saw Downie leave his feet to launch himself at Lovejoy. Downie knocked down Lovejoy but didn’t connect with his head and wasn’t a blindside hit. Making that all the more fun is that the hit occurred behind the net as well much like Torres’ hit only Lovejoy knew Downie was coming.

With those facts in place, of course the league opted to go against the grain and suspend both Downie and Kunitz for one game each. So let’s check back over the playoff punishment list:

Confused? So are we.

Campbell’s statements on the hits are to the point. On Downie’s hit he says, “Downie left his feet and launched himself at the head of his opponent and he came from a considerable distance, with speed and force, to deliver the check.”

That’s a bit of an assumption to say that Downie was targeting Lovejoy’s head, but there’s no doubt about him leaving his feet. As for Kunitz, he was a bit more direct saying, “Kunitz delivered an elbow directly to the head of his opponent.”

For all the bluster and yelling and pontificating the league does about wanting to clean up the game and make sure players are saved from having their heads (or feet) taken off by an opponent with ill intent the NHL sure is doing a poor job of being consistent about any part of it. While the inconsistency is a source of jokes and snarky commentary (with good reason) the players and Colin Campbell as well as those above Campbell at the NHL home office have to realize that there’s nothing about any of this that makes any sense. Calling it the “Wheel of Justice” isn’t just for jokes anymore as it seems this is just how it’s handled.

Torres’ shot to Seabrook has Seabrook out of tonight’s Game 4 in Chicago. Gagne is fortunate to not have suffered an injury thanks to Kunitz’s elbow but there’s zero way you can argue the intent behind his hit. Downie is a guy with a checkered past and a history of leaving his feet to deliver huge (and illegal) hits. He was once given a 20-game suspension back in 2007 with the Flyers for leaving his feet to hit Dean McAmmond. Any player with that sort of past should be scrutinized further, but given what we’ve seen out of Torres, Kunitz, and Ryan Downie’s hit seems like child’s play. Yet here we are with Downie being sat down by the league for a game while Torres will be back on the ice tonight in a game that could turn ugly because of his presence.

This just brings about the question of where exactly the line is for these players? Is having a permanently blurred line so a player isn’t sure whether or not he’ll be punished or not for a potentially dangerous hit is the goal, then mission accomplished. If having any kind of accountability for what happens was the aim then they’re failing miserably. It’s hard to believe that teams and players find this sort of Russian Roulette brand of handling punishment is in their favor but something’s got to give here.

We’re not asking for a great overhaul of how to do things we’re just asking for common sense. Hard to believe that asking for that would be the most difficult request out of everything.

  1. hanktheking - Apr 19, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    Jarrett Stoll: 1 game for turning Ian Whites brain into mush.

    • Joe Yerdon - Apr 19, 2011 at 3:27 PM

      Thanks for the reminder there hanktheking, I knew we’d forgotten one. It’s been updated.

  2. themohel - Apr 19, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    It is very true that whatever line the NHL is attempting to draw around this topic is written in erasable ink during a hurricane. They need to have a rule that is enforced consistently so that players will know what is okay and what isn’t. By the way, same deal with interference and its changing enforcement levels. Aside from shifting standards, how the heck can the league allege that they are serious about taking these hits out of the game when they give blatant elbows like last nights a one game suspension? I’ve heard the argument that one game equals a bunch of regular season games, but that is true for the victims, too, isn’t it? Unless they give series-length suspensions for such blatant head shots they cannot put on their serious face and say how determined they are to remove these incidents from the game. I’m a Hawks fan and I don’t think the Torres hit was in the “Cooke blatant elbow” category, and I love fighting in the game (I hope to see John Scott beat the crap out of Torres tonight), but these elbows to the head and launches into opponents is over the line….

  3. elvoid - Apr 19, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    What you need is a casual hockey fan (that would be me) to make this simple. I don’t care about the details, just the simplicity:

    Part A:

    1. If you leave your feet to deliver a hit: in season, 10 game suspension; in playoffs, suspension for rest of series.

    2. Intentional elbow or shoulder shots to the head: same punishment.

    Part B:

    1. If your hit is responsible for injury to opponent to where opponent misses more games than the above punishment, you are out just as long as they are. If you end a career, start polishing up your resume for a new line of work.

    • stakex - Apr 19, 2011 at 4:16 PM

      And thats why casual hockey fans don’t make the rules… thankfully

      • themohel - Apr 19, 2011 at 4:30 PM

        So, I guess the individuals that wrote this new set of guidelines must be casual hockey fans, huh? I thought they were long-time hockey pros that decided it would be best for the future of the game if they eliminated head shots. Casual hockey fans did not make this new set of rules/interpretation, nor did they make a bunch of rulings that have confused just about everyone. Yeah, thank goodness we don’t have much input from those stupid casual fans…

      • stakex - Apr 19, 2011 at 4:40 PM

        I was speaking to the comment I replyed to.. nothing more. But since you mention it no, people who know little about the game and have never played it should have absolutely no input when it comes to rules about said game.

        As for the current rules… its not the rules that are the problem, its their enforcment thats broken.

  4. stakex - Apr 19, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    I give up… I really do. I would say the NHL lost the rest of its credibility with this ruleing, but it didn’t have any left to lose.

    First of all the Kunitz hit: How the hell does the NHL get away with a one game suspension for this hit? If this was last year, then it wouldn’t be an issue. However, this year there is suppose to be a huge effort to crack down on blind side shots to the head of an opponent, especially when they are intentional. What else could you call this? It was an intentional effort to deliver an elbow to the head of an unsuspecting player, from the blind side. Not to mention it was a VERY late hit. That screams “throw the book at him”… yet the league only gave one game? What the hell is that about? I know Bettman cheers for Pittsburgh every year but this is a huge joke.

    Second the Downie hit: I don’t think there was anything worth of a suspension here. It wasn’t a headshot (despite the fact the league claims it was), and you see hits like this all the time… and as was pointed out the Torres hit was a lot worse, yet Torres recieved no suspension. Yes, Downie left his feel and has a history so I guess the league is justified in giving a suspension, but Torres was playing in his first game back from a 4 game suspension and again, walked without punishment. Then, even if you accept Downie deserved a one game suspension because of his past… Kunitz hit was far worse, yet he was given the same length suspension.

    Im dizzy just thinking about all this. There is clearly something REALLY wrong with the NHL and how it decides suspensions. None of their last three calls make any sense when compared with eachother, and then when compared with other punishments form the rest of the year make even less sense. If the NHL is actually serious when it comes to doing something about headshots, and wants to get its credability back there needs to be a massive overhaul in how suspensions are handed out. You can’t talk tough on headhots and then balk when it comes to a hit like the one Kunitz delivered. I think a shakeup in NHL management is needed.

    • themohel - Apr 19, 2011 at 5:04 PM

      I agree with you completely. My point earlier was that the people who are making a total mess of these decisions are not casual fans, but seasoned pros – insiders. The guy above made a comment about length of suspensions, and you dismissed him because he’s a “casual fan.” Then you turn around and write another post that was somewhat in agreement with his sentiments. I think the NHL is an insular place, which is very much in need of some fresh meat. Maybe taking a little input from outsiders might be useful (note, I did not say a committee of outsiders should be the commissioner and that rule changes should be open to public vote on a website).

    • psujay - Apr 19, 2011 at 8:41 PM

      after 18 months your slate is wiped clean, so Downie is NOT a repeat offender. Also, it was a 2 minute charging penalty, nothing more.

  5. derpdederpdederp - Apr 19, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    hmm seems to me they both got off easy here. leaving your feet to hit has always been illegal, downies a repeat offender who shouldve gotten at least 2 games. the hit by kunitz is the exact garbage the nhl keeps saying it wants to get out of the game so he shouldve been out for at least the first round, 5 games, or anything more substantial than 1 game

  6. fflnick - Apr 20, 2011 at 3:09 AM

    I will only comment on Downie specifically since I am familiar with him.

    I would have made an example of Downie.
    Yes, history should always count not wipe clean.
    He happen to hit a taller/ “heavier” player this time which thankfully limited the damage.
    He intent/ actions was the same as his previous history.

    Just because a player is smaller in height doesn’t mean launching yourself like a missile is acceptable.
    Considering how big of a problem concussion are, the NHL has to adapt more with the research.
    If not they actually will open themselves up to litigation from a retired player that they knew concussions are a problem and have not done enough to protect the players.

    I would have given him the same 20 game suspension he previously received with a stern warning to him and all other players.
    “Launching yourself will not occur in the game.”

    Other attempted head shots would receive similar non tolerance suspensions.

    The lack of consistency in upholding the rules has haunted the NHL. Sometime you feel like one is watching boxing or WWE. Sometimes it even reminds me of a battered woman making excuses for the act.
    You question the legitimacy of the sport when their is not a consistent playing field one it comes to enforcing rules.
    The reactionary measure of calling penalties and suspensions has to change. (ie. Stick to face 2 min. Draw blood 5 min) Stick to the face is a stick to the face. It’s passive.

    By nature penalties and suspensions are PREVENTIVE measures?
    You want to reduce injury you enforce the rules firmly.
    You want to get rid of it come down hard on it.

    • psujay - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      In the rules it’s a charging penalty. You can’t arbitrarily decide something in the rule books as a two minute penalty is suddenly 20 games. His 20 game suspension he led with his head. This is quite different. Lovejoy was braced against the boards and saw him coming. He left his feet. That’s a two minute penalty.

      • fflnick - Apr 20, 2011 at 12:01 PM

        That mentality is what I was referring to.
        Because he didn’t do severe damage to the player, it’s only 1 game.

        “His 20 game suspension he led with his head.”
        Disagree. He led with his shoulder both times. They are the exact same hits.
        The difference is the damage done. One is preseason, the other a playoff game.
        Check it out below.

        Downie hit on McAmmond

        Downie hit on Lovejoy

  7. fflnick - Apr 20, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    “You can’t arbitrarily decide something in the rule books as a two minute penalty is suddenly 20 games.”
    FYI- The NHL previously suspended him 20 games for the McAmmond hit.

    “The hit was deliberate, dangerous and has no place in our league. He crossed a line in a wholehearted way.
    Colin Campbell on the Downie/ McAmmond hit

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