Flyer Wayne Simmonds is taking some flack for his “oops” head shot on Tampa Bay’s T.J. Brown Saturday night.

Video: SPORTSNETCANADA

The question is, was it intentional or incidental? The answer for me is another question: How does that factor in to a suspension decision?Let’s compare to something else.

The NHL has this wierd thing where you have to be in control of your stick at all times. They have a stick infraction for the stick hitting every part of the body. Tripping, hooking, slashing, cross checking, and spearing cover all the bases from the neck down. But you can touch a player with your stick below the neck and have it not be a penalty. In other words, you can have legal stick contact to the body.

Now, if you hit a guy above the neck, different story. That’s a guaranteed high sticking penalty, accident or not. There is no legal stick contact to the head. The only exception to this rule is if you hit someone on a follow through from a shot. As a bonus, if you draw blood or otherwise cause an injury, it’s a 4 minute or 5 minute penalty at the discretion of the officials.

So compare stick contact with body contact. Think of the body as a set of dangerous weapons just like a stick. If you hit a player leading with any of the weapons (elbow, fist, forearm) there’s an infraction for it, just like stick contact. Elbowing, roughing, and charging, for example, cover most things from the neck down. Also like stick contact, you can legally use your weapons below the neck in some cases.

Interference covers body shots on players who don’t have the puck. But again, you can have legal contact to the body even without the puck.

So that leaves us with one last form of contact: Body part to head contact. The equivalent of “high sticking” is “checking to the head” or “head contact”.

Remember, the spirit of the stick to head contact rule is zero tolerance, even accidental or incidental. So by comparison, shouldn’t body to head contact have a zero tolerance?

By the letter of the law there is one distinct difference between stick to head contact and body to head contact: the word “unavoidable”. That’s not in the stick infraction category because, to be fair to the league, there’s very few instances in the natural course of the game where it’s absolutely vital for your stick to be at head height. It’s all unavoidable. You can’t control the height of an opponent’s head, but it’s very easy to control the height of your own stick. Where it’s not part of the game for it to be higher than your waist, if it goes any further you take your chances. Fair enough.

But it’s very hard to control the height of your own body parts in relation to your opponent’s head. You can control body position, but not base height. Therefore, there will be times over the natural course of the game where your body will hit an opponent’s head even when you’ve done nothing wrong. That’s why your argument in this Simmonds case can’t just be “but there was head contact”. It’s just not feasible for that to be automatic. To me, there’s a difference between “head contact” and a “check to the head”. “Contact” is unavoidable, and “check to the head” is intentional. There can be legal head contact while throwing a check, but a check to the head is never legal head contact. Follow me?

I believe Wayne Simmonds intentionally made contact with T.J. Brown. He had to skirt the blueline to stay onside and he was already going that way, but he pretty much set himself up to be where he thought Brown would be at the same time.

Having said that, it’s important to note that saying a check to head is “intentional” or that the “head was targeted” doesn’t necessarily mean the offender had such malice that he wanted to hit anyone in the head and injure them on purpose. All it means is that the player didn’t do enough to try and avoid head contact or didn’t do enough to make it as safe as possible.

So to answer my original question on the Simmonds incident: How does intent factor in to a suspension? For this we need one more term thrown in.

I break intentional infractions into two categories; predatory and non-predatory. Non-predatory is any intentional infraction where a player just doesn’t do anything to prevent it. Predatory is an act where the offender does something excessive or contributes in some way to increase the danger of an action. Think of it like a guy who runs a goalie in the crease. If he’s on a path to the net and just doesn’t stop, it’s two minutes for interference. No one is looking at whether or not the goalie was hit in the head. Nobody cares. It’s just did he stop or not, and was he helped in or not. That’s non-predatory.  But if that player reaches out with his hands to make sure he gets a piece of the goalie, or sticks his knee out, that’s predatory. There’s a great increase in danger.

So in the case of Simmonds, all he does is keep his path. It’s avoidable contact but he doesn’t do anything to prevent it. On the flip side. he doesn’t do anything to increase danger. He doesn’t speed up. He doesn’t stick his leg out. He doesn’t change direction or body position. He keeps his arm and elbow tucked, etc. To me this falls under non-predatory intent. He could have controlled whether he made contact with Brown, but he couldn’t control where Brown’s head was.

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In fact, Brown suddenly and drastically whips his head around at the last second, increasing force and causing the head to be the first thing hit.

It should have been a minor penalty, but it should  not be a suspension.

 

 

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