It never ceases to amaze me how one play can be seen so differently by so many people, but so it goes in the ongoing debate over questionable hits in the NHL.
The latest example, of course, is Anaheim's James Wisniewski's hit on Chicago's Brent Seabrook, that left the Blackhawk defenceman crumpled and semiconscious on the ice.
When all is said and done, all anyone can really go by is what they see and feel and here's my take on that hit.
As near as I can tell, the hit occurred solely for one purpose – to avenge Seabrook's questionable/borderline hit of Duck player Corey Perry earlier on the same shift. I suppose that goes to intent, which isn't necessarily such a bad thing if the intent was to deliver a hard check that is somewhat within the bounds of the rules or even to drop the gloves to fight, because whether anyone likes it or not, fighting is part of hockey. And so is settling a score. Fair enough.
But Wisniewski's hit was anything but close to legal.
As soon as I saw it, it struck me as the Grand Slam of illegal hits.
It was most certainly charging as Wisniewski wound up from a great distance to come in at top speed to hit Seabrook. That Wisniewski also left his feet is the exclamation point on the charging charge. I don't recall a defenceman being that aggressive on the forecheck in quite some time.
It was also interference, insofar as Seabrook did not have possession of the puck and wasn't the last one to touch it. In fact, I think you can make the case that the puck was not a factor whatsoever in Wisniewski's decision-making process.
I would also argue it was boarding, in the sense of an ultra-violent hit into the boards. In today's game, we have more or less accepted that players get driven into the boards quite forcefully on a regular basis, but if you read the penalty for boarding, I think it fits in this case.
I am prepared to give Wisniewski the benefit of the doubt that it was not elbowing. It looked to me like the point of contact was the shoulder although the elbow did come up late in the hit.
Charging? Check. Interference? Check. Boarding? Check. Throw in the predatory aspect of the hit, the seeming malice and forethought to avenge an earlier play and I would say Wisniewski hit this one out of the park.
It had a vaguely Downie-esque feel to it (see Steve Downie's charging and high hit on Dean McAmmond).
My first thought was that with so many illegal elements to it, it would make sense for the NHL have to an in-person disciplinary hearing and a suspension of five or more games. A day after the fact, I don't feel any differently.
As is the current tradition in the NHL, that will elicit two reactions. One faction will say that's not nearly enough. The other will say it's just a hockey hit, grow a set and let the boys play.
Where the NHL comes down on this one is anyone's guess.
This chronic debate over whether a player should be suspended for a hit, or how long he should be suspended, has become rather tiresome for all, I'm sure.
There's some great hockey being played and we always seem to end up talking about these questionable hits.
And therein lies the problem of today's game. The aberrant or really violent behavior now is almost exclusively played out as part of body contact, which as everyone knows is an intrinsic part of the game.
In the old days, probably pre-new millennium and certainly in the 1970s and 1980s, the over the top stuff was pretty damn easy to identify. Crosschecks to the head, major league slashes or stick swinging, sucker punches…all of that stuff was so far outside the bounds of the game that suspensions were a piece of cake. It was all so obvious.
Now, it's rare for the stick to be used for anything but to score a goal and whatever havoc and violence someone is going to unleash is almost always carried out in the guise of body contact.
That doesn't minimize the risk factor, the injuries or the amount of malice in the game. It just makes it that much more difficult to identify.
Now, it's hard to tell who's wearing the black hat. And the cacophony of debate on each hit and whether it's good or bad or somewhere in between is deafening and endless. So all you can really do is go with what you see and what you feel and for me, the Wisniewski hit on Seabrook was a bad one.