What constitutes a head shot?
Consistency and the NHL. Those two don’t belong in the same sentence, at least when it comes to the rules of the game. Whether it’s questions around video reviews for goalie interference or offside or a verdict handed from the Department of Player Safety — primarily for hits to the head — the league’s front office and the on-ice officials have a hard time trying to balance the day-to-day operations.
We get it. It’s not an easy job to review questionable plays, hits and head shots, let alone delivering a ruling. Finding a happy medium for this is next to impossible. But not having enough guidelines as to what constitutes a head hit, goalie interference or any other important aspect in the NHL’s book of rules and regulations is where the league is sorely missing the mark.
Case in point Wednesday night in St. Louis where Brayden Schenn, a player who has had his fair share of hearings with the NHL DoPS, delivered a shoulder hit to David Krejci’s head. Fortunately for the injury-plagued Bruins, Krejci did not miss a shift. Schenn, meanwhile, earned a two-minute minor for charging.
Here’s a look at the replay for those who missed it during the second period:
Though Krejci’s head was slightly tucked and might have been put in a somewhat vulnerable position, Schenn’s point of emphasis was clear. Schenn also left his feet, but whether or not that happened during or after contact is up to judgment.
Even though he’s not defined as a ‘repeat offender’ (18 months between suspensions according to the CBA), the Blues forward has a history with Player Safety — most recently in 2016 where he was suspended three games for a similar hit to Capitals forward T.J. Oshie during his last game with the Flyers. A hearing for his hit on Krejci was the least that DoPS could’ve done.
Thus, the consistency issue continues to plague the NHL. Of course, comparing acts of controversy is challenging in and of itself. But there’s a reason why Bruins fans are upset with the league’s handling — or lack thereof — of Schenn’s questionable hit, and why they’re bringing David Backes back into the fold.
Backes was suspended for three games two weeks ago for his hit to the head on Frans Nielsen. The Red Wings forward missed the team’s next three games. This marked Backes first career suspension in his 12-year career, and he was left proverbially scratching his head.
— Colin Beswick (@CBeswick) March 7, 2018
“My agent did all the numbers and I think I had over 2,400 hits in this league over 12 seasons and never even had a hearing, let alone a fine, let alone a suspension,” Backes told reporters upon hearing the news.
“If we’re trying to teach a lesson — or critique — one out of 2,400 hits that I was really trying to really avoid and that’s kind of been acknowledged as well…I don’t know how effective that is. That’s a small little decimal if you do the division. So, that’s where we’re at. It’s the situation we’re in. That’s the world we live in, as the league likes to say a lot. So, that’s the world we live in.”
Well, one week later, Backes nearly got another player safety critique when he was ejected for his hit on Vincent Trocheck in the B’s 3-0 loss to the Panthers. As you can see, Trocheck’s head was tucked — lower than Krejci’s — but that didn’t stop the officials from giving Backes a five and a game.
Backes, who is day to day with a knee laceration, might have gotten ejected, but escaped further supplemental discipline for the Trocheck incident.
Whether it’s Schenn, Backes, Pierre-Luc Dubois not being called for holding Brad Marchand during Monday’s Bruins-Blue Jackets OT tilt or Patric Hornqvist delivering a head hit on Charlie McAvoy, this trend of reviews and questionable officiating has been following the injury-plagued Bruins around for the last few weeks.
Some might be calling this a conspiracy against the Bruins on social media, but this is a bigger concern for the NHL at a time where studies surrounding concussions and brain damage before and after playing careers — primarily with CTE — are becoming more informative by the second. The league, however, is still behind the times on the headshot ramifications as evidenced by the latest episode of HBO’s Real Sports.
Whether it is repeat offenders like Schenn or Marchand or first-time culprits like Backes, the league needs to take a step forward and provide some sort of guideline for evaluating head hits regardless of what is or isn’t called on the ice.
Otherwise, much like the goaltender interference debacle, the hockey world will continue to ask the question of what constitutes as a headshot.