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Fraser: Looking at the hits by Eller and Fisher

Kerry Fraser
10/11/2013 2:44:38 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Kerry,
 
In the Canadiens/Oilers game Thursday night - third period - Lars Eller crosschecked Taylor Hall directly from behind, face first into the boards.
 
And it was face first - Hall's face was the first part of his body to make contact with the boards. He did not get his hands up in time to protect himself (and I watched it several times, frame by frame). But no major penalty? Seriously?
 
In minor hockey that is at least a major and a game, and if you assessed a match, you would be justified.  What's the rationale? Because there was no blood or teeth lost? The non-call is particularly frustrating in comparison to the Mike Fisher hit on Cody Franson on Thursday night, which was not as bad but resulted in a major penalty and a game misconduct because Franson was bleeding all over the place - but only because his visor cut him (and if we want to get into players being driven into stanchions - Chara on Pacioretty is the standard, and there was no penalty on that one).
 
What's the explanation and where's the consistency?
 
Cole MacKay

Cole:

I totally concur with your assessment on this play and the resulting penalty should have been a major and game misconduct (rule 43—Checking from Behind) to Lars Eller for this dangerous hit.

A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. Any player who cross-checks, pushes or charges from behind an opponent who is unable to protect or defend himself shall be assessed a major penalty and game misconduct. Note also that when a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed.

While Taylor Hall did turn slightly toward the side boards after gaining possession of the puck it would be unreasonable to suggest that Hall did so intentionally to expose his back for the purpose of creating contact as described in rule 43.1. Lars Eller on the other hand travelled from his location in front of the Montreal goal and had sufficient time to alter both his approach and method of contact (cross-check directly from behind to opponent's back) once Taylor Hall faced the boards and was placed in a vulnerable position.

The visual picture presented by Taylor Hall's snap/arch of his back and face-plant into the boards following the cross-check by Eller clearly fall within the language and application of rule 43—Check from Behind and should have been penalized as such. I am not suggesting that there should be any further discipline to Lars Eller since we should recognize that while the hit was illegal Eller didn't utilize "excessive force" through the hit worthy of a suspension.

The correct call (major and game misconduct boarding) was made last night when Mike Fisher pushed Cody Franson from behind creating some additional velocity at the last instance and causing Franson to contact the curved glass/stanchion at the end of the players' bench. While Franson's visible injury most definitely had relevance to the application of a major penalty and game misconduct as prescribed in the boarding rule, the fact remains that a dangerous situation resulted from the unexpected push from behind by Fisher.

Your call for "consistency" is well taken, Cole. It is imperative that the Referees differentiate between varying degrees of boarding, checks from behind and illegal checks to the head but more importantly not have any reluctance in assessing major penalties when warranted. Too many player suspensions have been imposed by the Player Safety Committee when a minor penalty or worse yet no penalty at all were assessed on the play.  Brad Stuart's three-game suspension for what was ruled upon as an illegal check to the head of New York Ranger Rick Nash is the most recent example of this.

That will likely change today, pending the outcome of an in-person hearing called for Patrick Kaleta of Buffalo (suspected illegal check to the head of Jack Johnson, Columbus) and a hearing for Vancouver's Alexander Edler (suspected illegal head check on Tomas Hertl, San Jose).  Neither Kaleta nor Edler were penalized on the plays in question.

I see one of the problems the Referees created for themselves and the game was the elimination of a major penalty (due to Refs reluctance to impose it) when an illegal check to the head is called. Rule 48 provides for a minor penalty or a match penalty. The major and game misconduct provisions were eliminated in this rule.

So whenever an illegal check to the head is identified in a game at best it results in a minor penalty and the player remains in the game. Upon further review that player could ultimately be suspended for three plus games pending the outcome of a hearing. Putting consistency aside, for something as serious as the protection of a player's head I think the rule and the application by many of the Refs is far too soft and short sighted. 

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser


Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.


Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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