There were at least two discussion worthy hits from last night’s Stanley Cup Playoff overtime game between Tampa Bay and New York.
This article addresses the second, a hit delivered by Tampa’s Brian Boyle on Islander Thomas Hickey.
I believe this hit was clean. Boyle approached from a great angle and Hickey had only just passed the puck. Hickey should have expected to be hit, and you could tell he saw it coming because he tried to stop up. Boyle skated through the check but didn’t apply any extra force.
So why am I talking about it? Well, there’s something Player Safety has talked about with its last two suspensions this week to Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang. In reviewing those hits, they mentioned one key question this blog’s been asking all year: regardless of cleanliness or technique, did the hit need to happen at all?
Looking at the three incidents in order, Oprik got a three game suspension for his hit on Penguin Oli Maatta in large part because of “the extreme lateness of the hit”, as stated by Player Safety. The contact occurred about an hour and a half after Maatta shot the puck so that’s very hard to argue. Maatta was not eligible to be hit, nor should he have reasonably expected to be hit.
Letang was suspended one game for his hit on Capital Marcus Johansson. Letang threw his hit a mere .64 seconds after Johansson lost puck possession. The acceptable window allowed under the interference penalty is .60 seconds, and as such Letang was issued a two minute interference minor penalty on the play. This was hardly cause for suspension, except for one fact considered by Player Safety: Letang didn’t technically initiate the hit until after Johansson lost the puck. Even though he was tracking Johansson and had position, he actually did change his path of travel just prior to the hit in order to throw it, and so Player Safety argued that Letang should have considered Johansson no longer eligible to be hit before he made that decision. Even though Letang made his adjustment within the allowable time frame for checking without penalty after a player forfeits possession, this window is only for allowing a player to finish a hit he’s already committed to.
Fair enough. If that’s the standard they want, in the interest of Player Safety I have no issue with that at all. It’s technically an existing rule anyway, so all they need to do is consistently enforce the rule and educate the players.
Which brings us to the Brian Boyle hit from one night after the Letang incident.
As the video shows, Boyle keeps his feet on the ice like a slalom skier, and is gliding as Hickey releases the puck. At this moment after making the pass, Hickey automatically becomes ineligible to be hit, and only a player who’s already committed to a hit can finish it. Yet it’s only at this moment that Boyle clearly rolls the edges of his skates toward Hickey, which automatically changes his path of travel to adjust his angle of approach for the hit. According to the Letang suspension explanation video released just that morning by Player Safety, that makes the Boyle hit late by definition and a hit that didn’t need to happen. Hickey made his pass and was no longer a threat. Boyle could have chosen to turn away, but instead he chose to turn into the hit and finish it anyway.
This “late and needless hit” should at the very least have warranted an over the phone conversation between Boyle and Player Safety regardless of whether there was head contact or anything else. If they actually want change, they need to be more consistent with the message.