Dallas Stars forward Martin Hanzal erased Nashville Predators defencemen Yannik Weber from the game Thursday night with an open ice check to the head. The play happened in the first period when Weber was racing for the puck through the neutral zone while trying to fight off the pursuit of Dallas forward Devin Shore. The puck was knocked off Weber’s stick, and he was plastered while lunging out to knock the puck over to a teammate.
Hanzal received a 5 minute major for interference but stayed in the game, which ended 4-1 for Nashville. I can see why the referee called interference in the moment. Weber had lost the puck at the red line, and I had to slow this down to a frame by frame to see him actually make contact right before impact with Hanzal near the blueline. That was definitely long enough for Hanzal to back out of this hit altogether.
It’s important to note the call on the ice was not illegal check to the head. It was interference. The officials only thought this hit was bad because they thought it was late. Other than that, it was perfect. The big thing the Department of Player Safety preaches is “angle of approach”. Hanzal goes out of his way to get out in front of Weber and make this a mostly North/South hit as opposed to a blind side hit.
Also, Weber puts himself in the most vulnerable position by reaching out even more at the last second. He makes the puck a priority over his own personal safety. You can’t fault Hanzal for cleanly hitting an elgible player. I don’t think any extra punishment is needed.
One thing I wonder about is, whether Hanzal touched the puck at the very last moment or not, Hanzal was going to hit him anyway. He had no idea whether Weber was going to make contact with the puck. He saw a player reaching and decided to eliminate him from the play. Is Hanzal given a get out of jail free card just because of luck, and is that a good enough reason? Would he have been suspended if Weber hadn’t touched the puck?
If your answer is no, you’re probably thinking Weber should’ve given up on the puck completely. Because he still reached, he basically announced himself to be still involved in the play, unwittingly inviting contact.
If the answer is yes, maybe this hit should still be punishable either way. Maybe you just don’t hit a guy who’s reaching for the puck.