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Fraser: Looking at Chara's contact to the head of Wingels

Kerry Fraser

10/28/2013 2:29:38 PM

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,
 
Two nights after the Scott-Eriksson incident in Buffalo, the Bruins returned home to play San Jose. In that game, Zdeno Chara put a check on Tommy Wingels that clearly targeted his head. This check was not a late check as Scott's. However, the check still targeted the head of an opposing player! Please explain the consistency/inconsistency of penalties called here?
 
Tom Van Dusen
 
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Kerry,
 
Can you explain why the NHL has completely ignored the high hit Chara leveled in Thursday night's game against the Sharks?
 
It was on Tommy Wingels - It was well late and you can see Chara appear to intentionally go high by bringing his arms up right before contact. So the size differential between the players shouldn't be a factor.
 
How to on-ice officials missed it is beyond me, but more perplexing is the league ignoring them as well? How can they say they are serious about head shots and player safety, but allow these hits to go unpunished? Looking forward to your insight.
 
Spencer Doherty

CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO
 
Tom and Spencer:

Call me a dreamer but in a "perfect NHL" I would like nothing better than to see all contact to the head eliminated. The harsh reality is that given the speed of this contact sport, attack angles and body position can often be altered just prior to an intended legal hit.  As a result, there are times when I am afraid to admit contact to the head will continue to occur. Under the current playing rules, contact to the head in almost all cases should be worthy of at least a minor penalty; but not always a suspension. The intended check by Zdeno Chara that resulted in Tommy Wingels' head becoming the main point of contact is one of these times. The call on the ice should have resulted in a minor for high-sticking or two minutes for illegal check to the head.

Every play must be judged on its own merit. Several factors, including the language contained in rule 48, must be considered when a potential suspension is warranted. Rather than looking at the current rule as ambiguous (which admittedly is not easy to do) let us attempt to dissect the language and apply it to Chara's hit on Wingels versus the other end of the spectrum; John Scott's head shot on Loui Eriksson.

An illegal check to the head results when the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable. In determining if Chara's contact to Wingels head was avoidable, we must factor in the following:

i) Whether the player (Chara) attempted to hit squarely through the opponent's body and the head was not 'picked' as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

ii) Whether the opponent (Wingels) put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

iii) Whether the opponent (Wingels) materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

Zdeno Chara approached Tommy Wingels to make a hit squarely through the body with his shoulder. Chara's hands and stick, based on his left shooting posture, were positioned in front of the intended contact and to seal off Wingels route to the net at the boards. Tommy Wingels anticipated the contact from Chara after releasing the puck to teammate Tomas Hertl directly behind the Bruins net and ducked down in an attempt to slip the intended check by Big Z. Chara reacted to this material change of Wingels body position at the last second by extending his hands to make contact; albeit to the head/helmet of his opponent. I deem this illegal contact to be a high-sticking infraction or a minor penalty for illegal check to the head, if you prefer!

How could it be missed on the ice, you asked? The referee, deep in the corner on the opposite side of the ice, set up in a direct line looking through Hertl who provided an obstructed view for the finish of Chara's hit on Wingels. Referee-1 became a 'puck watcher' on the play and missed Chara's infraction as Hertl received the pass with no threat of being checked by a Bruins defender. There was no need for Ref-1 to maintain a visual focus on Hertl at this time.

Ref 2 on the same side of the ice and outside the blue line as Zdeno Chara's hit was most likely obstructed by Chara's body and did not see the hands come up to make contact with Wingels head. These reasons do not excuse the fact that both Refs missed the call on the ice but provide you with some insight as to how it could have occurred. Both Refs needed to move their feet to gain the proper angle and retain a focus of attention on the finish of Zdeno Chara's illegal check on Tommy Wingels.

While this play was deserving of a two minute penalty (but no suspension), I would like to see the maximum allowable fine implemented in all cases where the head was the main point of contact resulting from an illegal check.  The capability to fine players is currently within the arsenal of the Player Safety Committee to help act as a deterrent for contact to the head of an opponent.