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Fraser: The near-miss - Lupul on Henrik Sedin on Saturday

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Kerry Fraser
11/5/2013 2:06:15 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!
 
I hope you saw that attempt by Joffrey Lupul to elbow Henrik Sedin in the head on Saturday, but missed and took out Nazem Kadri. I just wanted to find out if the NHL has a rule against 'attempts' to injure players.  I'm sure a running elbow would be a concussion or something serious had Lupul hit his intended target. The refs are not doing enough to protect the players, this went uncalled!
 
Thanks,
Adrian Wong
 
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Hi Kerry,
 
Been wondering about Joffrey Lupul's attempted elbow to the head of Henrik Sedin in the Canucks' win over the Maple Leafs.
 
Lupul clearly attempts to use his elbow to hit Sedin as he is flying by him. Sedin dodges it, and it takes a bad turn for the Leafs as he hits Kadri instead.
 
With this, I have two questions:
 
1. Does Lupul's failure to hit Sedin clear him of everything, or does his obvious attempt to injure stay with him?
 
2. If it doesn't clear him, why is this hit not being looked at by the league, especially with Lupul having a previous suspension?
 
Thanks,
Ben Arends
 
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Hi Kerry,
I was watching the Leafs-Canucks game and completely missed this occurrence. I couldn't believe that this attempt at Sedin was not even brought up by most news operations.

Even though Lupul didn't connect, should this attempt to elbow Sedin's head not be a suspension or at least be reviewed?  To me, it clearly looks like Lupul was attempting to head Sedin in the head.  Yes, he didn't connect, but the attempt to connect was there.

I would be interested in your thoughts.

Jay
 
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Hi Kerry,
 
In the Toronto/Vancouver game Saturday, Lupul extends his elbow with the intent of hitting Henrik Sedin. Henrik luckily ducks out of the way and Lupul ends up elbowing Kadri instead. Yes, it was a very amusing outcome (perhaps not for Kadri), but this makes me question why the NHL does not use rule 21.1 (Match Penalty) to punish these types of plays when it is clear that Lupul's intent was to strike Henrik Sedin in the head and only because Hank saw it coming, was it avoided.
 
Seems to me like the NHL waits for a significant injury instead of ever punishing the intent. Can you explain this to me? Can you explain why we have a rule that allows refs to punish intent, but it never gets used?
 
Thanks,
Steve Platt
 
 
Adrian, Ben, Jay and Steve:

We have another full mail bag today on a potentially very dangerous play. This time we examine Joffrey Lupul's deliberate flying elbow intended for Henrik Sedin's head. The forceful elbow narrowly missed the mark but instead caught Lupul's teammate Nazem Kadri flush in the kisser. No call was made on the ice.

First, let me offer my perspective concerning the lack of a penalty being assessed on the play (video link). In most cases there needs to be some form of contact for the Referee to assess a penalty. I can therefore understand why one wasn't forthcoming on this play. Elbowing, kneeing and most other fouls come to mind where a narrow miss becomes a non-event and therefore not worthy of a penalty.

Slashing on the other hand is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Other exceptions to this standard of contact are when a player attempts to butt-end or spear his opponent. In these cases a double minor is assessed when no contact is made and a major plus game misconduct results from contact. In the previous two fouls a match penalty is assessed when injury results.

The reason for these applications is the inherent danger to a player's safety when struck with a stick. We also now recognize the potential for serious injury when an elbow cap is forcefully delivered to the head of an opponent. A number of suspensions have resulted from these types of illegal hits.  In all cases the parameters and criteria change when an infraction is deemed to be an attempt to injure an opponent.

In this particular situation, even with the absence of contact but given the deliberation and severity of the attempt Joffrey Lupul made to elbow Henrik Sedin in the head a different standard must apply. I want to specifically reference rule 45.4 which I believe should have been applied by the Officials at ice level; "The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by elbowing."

The decision Joffrey Lupul made to leave his feet and fully extend his elbow at his opponents head was beyond just tremendously irresponsible but one he should know would result in some degree of injury to Sedin.  Just because Sedin veered from his original path behind the goal and cut hard toward the front of the net does not excuse Lupul's subsequent actions with some separation as an attempt to simply make a check. The evidence here clearly demonstrates that Henrik Sedin narrowly avoided the intended contact to his head by looking down at the puck in his skates and thereby altering his head position. Lupul did not let up after missing Sedin and accidentally planted the elbow in the face of Nazem Kadri. Striking Henrik Sedin would have been no accident!

I look at this play similarly to a player swinging a stick at the head of his opponent from close range but where no contact was made. Without question I would assess a match penalty for "attempt to injure." I would hope every Referee would do the same.  I recall giving Chris 'Knuckles' Nilan a match penalty after assuming his position in the penalty box following a fight, then grabbing a puck out of the bucket and throwing it at his opponent seated in the visitors penalty box. The puck missed Knucks' intended target but it was still an attempt to injure!

The Player Safety Committee on the other hand has a more challenging task to suspend a player where no contact or adverse result occurred given the standard they have set to this point in their deliberations. I can only imagine the fallout from a team and the NHLPA if a player was suspended without physical evidence of contact—the smoking gun. The primary objectives of supplemental discipline are to hold players accountable for poor and dangerous decisions in an effort to provide player safety and ultimately prevent future injuries.  While proving "intent" can be a very difficult task, the overwhelming evidence on this play can only lead a reasonable thinking person to conclude that Joffrey Lupul fully intended on elbowing Henrik Sedin in the head.

There have been many times that the Player Safety Committee has suspended a player where no injury resulted. I can't think of one situation where a player was suspended where contact with his opponent did not actually occur.  The reality is that this play was likely judged in the same consistent fashion given the absence of physical contact.

Any lack of supplemental discipline in cases such as this not only sends the wrong message but misses the intended target completely; namely to provide a future deterrent to a player committing an illegal and dangerous act where injury is likely to result.

Joffrey Lupul (Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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