Early in the second period of last night’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers, Anaheim’s Kevin Bieksa delivered a blindside hit to Brandon Pirri. Here I’ll be focusing on this particular incident, but it’s a small representation of a larger problem in the NHL about when it is safe to hit someone and when it isn’t. That’s obviously important but what I think should be looked at more is when it is necessary to hit someone and when it isn’t.
In this case when the hit is delivered Pirri is in an awkward upright position after having attempted a short pass in the neutral zone to a player picking up speed on his opposite side. He was clearly looking at where his pass went and also realizing that as it happened he had caused a turnover. As all this was happening he found himself the recipient of a solid hit (insert automatic “keep your head up, don’t follow your pass”, “that’s hockey” arguments here). Maybe he should have been more prepared to protect himself. I mean, when you’ve had the puck, you should expect a hit right? But that’s just Pirri’s path to contact.
Bieksa on the other hand had very little to do with the play leading up to the hit. He was backchecking and not really even focused on Pirri anymore because he had distributed the puck already. In fact, Bieksa is pretty much almost in possession of the puck as an offensive player before the hit is even initiated. Pirri as stated was standing tall and stationary and was in no way in a position to defend himself, nor was he in a position to recover and rejoin the play after the turnover. Bieksa had done his duty and forced a bad pass giving his team, and himself personally, possession of the puck. All he had to do was skate by Pirri and he was away on the rush. You could try to argue the contact was incidental and Pirri just happened to be in Bieksa’s new path to the puck. However, for some reason he decided to not only bump into Pirri on his way by, but also to lift his body up and into the check adding leverage into a check on an already vulnerable player and making sure he hit him in the most vulnerable part of the body.
Was this head contact? I’m not sure if the initial contact was. Was this a blindside hit? Absolutely. A penalty should have been and was called. But the darker issue for me is, did this hit serve a purpose? The player didn’t have possession of the puck and the hit was delivered late. It was intentionally delivered with extra upward force. The player was in no position to prevent the attacking player from making his hockey play. If anything the extra push into the hit and the contact alone would have slowed Bieksa down rather than helped him. The hit was not a hockey play and served no positive purpose.
Verdict: Should have been 5 minutes for interference.