On December 28th in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal defenceman Shea Weber hit Vladislav Namestnikov with a thunderous impact that propelled the Lightning forward dangerously into the boards. Weber was neither assessed a boarding penalty (or a penalty of any kind) by the on ice officials, nor disciplined by the NHL Department of Player Safety. My immediate reaction to watching the hit was how awesome it was. The timing. The execution. The impact. When Namestnikov didn’t get up of course I was worried for him, but I was begging for no fight. I was thinking, please just let this be acknowledged as a good hit and let’s move on with the game. But noooo. We had a stupid scrum again, and right over top of the fallen body again, might I add. I was all set to do an article on forced fighting after clean hits when, to my surprise, people were referring to it as dirty.
From here on I’m going to reference an article I found to be the best explanation as to why the Weber hit should have been penalized(the link to the full article by GeoFitz4 can be found below). It’s very well written and shows an excellent understanding of the rules. We basically just have different interpretations of the wording. The author is equally as stunned the hit wasn’t penalized as I was to find others calling it dirty. I’m going to go through it point by point arguing the other side and you can decide for yourself who you agree with.
Here’s the NHL rulebook listing for boarding as referenced by GeoFitz4:
A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.
Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious “icing” or “off-side” play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is “boarding” and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as “charging.”
Now the points laid out by GeoFitz4:
First, is Namestnikov defenseless? The Department of Player Safety has demonstrated in videos that a player that braces for a hit is not considered defenseless. As we view the play, Namestnikov is trying to gather in the puck. He does take a quick look towards the net and then back at the puck just prior to being hit. In no way does Namestnikov prepare for the hit. He has his head turned away from Weber for most of the play.
What I get from that is basically any player who doesn’t brace for impact is considered defenceless. He doesn’t see Weber and doesn’t prepare for the hit. Therefore, he can’t be hit. I suppose in some way you could say Namestnikov was defenceless, but not in the way the rule was intended. He was defenseless in the same way Jonathan Drouin was defenceless when reaching out for the puck against Calvin De Haan for example. To define Namestnikov or Drouin or any player as defenceless it needs to be established not only that they didn’t brace or defend themselves but also that they had no opportunity to do so.
To be fair I’ll use the same video provided by GeoFitz4 in his article:
The Tampa defenceman passes the puck up into Namestnikov’s space to skate in to. He’s at the red line when he sees the puck coming and makes a good angled turn to take the puck in stride. He then carries it over the blue line before getting pasted.
In turning up the ice, getting possession, and then actually trying to pick up speed, he covers a full half zone of ice and more. I agree he only takes one quick look to his right where he doesn’t even really see anything because he’s so focused on getting control of the puck. I agree he does nothing to prepare for a hit. Where I lose sympathy is that he clearly had opportunity to prepare for the hit and just didn’t. So was he defenceless? My interpretation is not a chance.
Second, is Namestnikov checked violently or dangerously into the boards? Without a doubt, yes. You cannot look at this play and say that it was not a violent check into the boards. I should also note that nowhere does the rule book state that a player must be checked from behind for it to be boarding. It only states that the player be defenseless.
Again, I agree sort of. It was a violent impact with the boards, but it was not a violent check. Weber made no extra push, took no extra strides, didn’t leave his feet, didn’t extend or lunge forward into the check, and basically did nothing to increase the force of impact with Namestnikov’s body into either himself or the boards. It’s also true the hit doesn’t have to be from behind to be boarding. This is critical and I’m glad the author pointed that out. The player only has to be defenceless. I felt he was not.
The next paragraph is where we find Weber even more guilty. The onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid or minimize contact on a defenseless player. Weber did neither and in fact took extra effort to forcefully make the check to a defenseless Namestnikov.
See points above.
The next part of the paragraph maintains that the player being checked cannot turn and put themselves in a vulnerable position. Namestnikov continued straight line skating. He did not turn his body prior to or simultaneously to the hit.
Except that he did turn his body. As Namestnikov approaches the puck it’s slightly behind him. He’s a left shot which means as he drags the puck up while skating in a straight line, his left shoulder (farthest from Weber) rotates out ahead of his body and his right shoulder (nearest Weber) naturally pulls backwards, exposing his chest. Being hit like this (with his right arm BEHIND Weber’s body) would if anything have forced him back first into the boards, not face first. At that, because Weber took a great angle of approach more from the front than the side, the more likely scenario would have been simply Namestnikov’s forward progress coming to a stop with him being knocked backward on the reverse angle back toward the blueline more than the boards, significantly reducing the violence of the impact. But if Weber never changes his direction either, why didn’t this happen? Because Namestnikov does in fact rotate his body position at the last moment, putting himself in a much more dangerous and vulnerable position. Here’s a series of still shots from the video:
I think this, and this alone, causes Namestnikov to spin dangerously face first into the boards.
That’s my take. Here’s the link to the article by GeoFritz4. What do you think?