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Fraser: Judging illegal hits to the head for suspension

Kerry Fraser
10/30/2013 3:24:08 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!

Hi Kerry,
 
It's another day and here we are looking at another dubious hit to the head. In this case Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky elbowed Saku Koivu in the head about a second after he dished off the puck to a teammate, knocking him unconscious.  This week we learned that there will be no supplementary discipline handed out to Dubinsky. This seems strange to me given that we are trying to get head shots out of the game, and John Scott has just been suspended indefinitely for a very similar type of play.
 
Can you provide any insight on the thinking that goes on in deciding not to suspend Dubinsky in this case?  It makes absolutely no sense to me.  Thanks!
 
Kevin Head

Kevin:

There was vast discrepancy in the reporting and analysis from one team broadcast feed to the other following Brandon Dubinsky's hit on Saku Koivu

The Blue Jackets' viewing audience would have believed that no penalty was warranted to Dubinsky on the play as their broadcasters analyzed multiple replays with comments such as, "Is the head targeted?; That's a good hit; all Dubinsky did was brace before the hit because Koivu was going to him with (as) the aggressor; There was no elbow up - no targeting the head; That was a 'good hockey play'; No targeting of the head whatsoever!"

Analysis from the Anaheim broadcast team offered a totally different description and perception of the play. Duck fans probably anticipated a suspension would result to Brandon Dubinsky once they heard, "Oh boy that is a brutal elbow from Brandon Dubinsky, that's right on the jaw of Saku Koivu. You see the head of Saku Koivu snap back. I'm sure the people in Toronto will be taking a look at that."

While the vantage point the two broadcast teams shared in the press box is relatively close in proximity to one another, their respective analysis of this play could not be farther apart. Is this just a result of team loyalty and bias that we might expect in some measure or are we really this far apart on the subject of judging and eliminating contact to the head? Have we become too desensitized to violent hits or those where the head is the main point of contact hoping against all hope that the "physicality" of the game is not lost due to player suspensions?

This illustration moves beyond the broadcast booth to all elements of the hockey world with varying opinions on determining illegal hits to the head; including those shared by the Player Safety Committee. The Hockey Operations Department and the Player Safety Committee review every play that has the potential for player suspension. I am the first to admit they have a very tough and thankless job.

Kevin, part of the criteria used to determine an illegal check to the head is published in Rule 48 which the Player Safety Committee must adhere to when judging a potential suspension. In this case they would reference the following from rRule 48 to make their determination:

 i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponents body and the head was not "picked'  (Brandon Dubinsky is square to Saku Koivu and therefore this is not a "head pick" by definition of the rule.)

ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable. (Saku exposed himself somewhat for a square hit after making the pass but did attempt to bring his stick up to defend just prior to frontal impact from Dubinsky)

The timing of the hit would be another element that the Player Safety Committee would examine. I have to say that although interference was ultimately assessed by the Refs on the ice the contact was not unusually late or even out of the ordinary for the finish of a check in terms of the standard we have seen for supplemental discipline.

We may not like the end result, but that is the most probable answer to your question why Brandon Dubinsky was not suspended for his hit to Saku Koivu. The Player Safety Committee stayed within the language of the rule and the current guidelines that have been established.

I understand the current parameters being utilized by the PSC but I am jumping into the broadcast booth down the hall to voice my differing opinion. For the sake of "player safety" the criteria must change in an effort to alter current and dangerous player tendencies that are causing the train to run off the rails.

I for one want to see a player suspended every time he elevates his posture upward and makes the head of his opponent the main point of contact no matter if the attack angle is squarely through an opponent's body or even if that player put himself in a vulnerable position. Brandon Dubinsky, as we see on most dangerous contact, elevated through the hit and continued to elevate with an upward extension of his elbow after contact was made to the head of Saku Koivu. Further evidence of this elevation is often seen when a player's skate(s) leave the ice after contact which is often deemed a "good hockey play." My criteria would be "upward to the head" and "outward" for two games minimum!

That of course, would depend on which side of the broadcast booth you are sitting in.

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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