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The NHLPA hopes to close another loophole on controversial hits

Apr 24, 2011, 1:27 PM EDT

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torresstareap AP

There were a lot of dissenting opinions when it came to the non-suspension verdict regarding the controversial Raffi Torres hit on Brent Seabrook.

Yet when it came to Colin Campbell’s explanation of the decision, many hockey people were left perplexed (or amused) by the idea that players would get extra “leeway” behind the net. Some call it “the hitting zone”; others refer to it as “the killing zone.” Either way you slice it, the concept itself seems to open up a can of worms.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that this isn’t just news to the hockey public. It also seems like it might be news to the players.

Brooks reports that the NHL Players Association is “irate” about that explanation.

Slapshots has learned that the NHLPA is irate over Campbell’s statement and the NHL’s position on the type of play that resulted in a concussion for Seabrook. A well-placed source, who declined to go on the record, told us this week that no one within the union had ever heard of such a policy.

The PA intends to use its representation on the increasingly irrelevant competition committee to attempt to craft a rule this summer that would explicitly outlaw the Torres’ hit that concussed the Blackhawks’ first-pair defensemen.

Brooks asks a tough, big-picture question about Campbell’s tendencies and the general message of the league’s disciplinary process, though:

Really, though, what’s the point when the man in charge (with, it must be stressed, the full support of his employers on Sixth Avenue) spends his time searching for loopholes in the rulebook to enable predators rather than applying Rule 21.1 to protect the vast majority of players who are — now by definition — targets in the crosshairs.

This is Rule 21.1: “A match penalty shall be imposed on any player who deliberately attempts to injure or who deliberately injures another player in any manner.”

Unless there is a secret amendment to 21.1 that reads, “Except in the area behind the net and except when the play in question is a shoulder to the head of a player with his head down about the play the puck,” there is no explanation, none at all, that would explain Campbell and the league’s failure to apply the statute against Torres.

When a player targets an opponent’s head, he is deliberately attempting to injure him. That’s it. There’s no wiggle room, no other explanation, no room for debate.

It brings it all back to the ultimate question: can the league police these matters with anything less than a black-and-white rule that all hits to the head will be illegal? It seems like any bit of gray area opens the door for baffling decisions and confusing explanations.

That’s not to say that the league must make all head hits illegal, but if the NHL truly wants to do its best to protect players, then it needs to lift this ridiculous fog. Removing the guesswork and instilling some clarity would go a long way toward rebuilding the league’s reputation in this increasingly embarrassing area.

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