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Making Hockey Violent Again

Another week, another dangerous hit goes unpunished.

NHL: JAN 21 Canadiens at Canucks Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s expected that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will do what they can to get calls right to protect the players. More and more in recent years under the unwatchful eye of George Parros, that feels less true, and the Department of Player Safety’s farcical rulings regarding Tyler Myers and Dillon Dubé continue to reinforce that.

With three minutes left to play in a blowout game on January 21, Myers skated to engage Joel Armia, and with the Habs winger’s head down, Myers threw a blindside hit to the head that left Armia with a concussion. What might have saved Armia even slightly is that he could see Myers coming, and pulled back slightly, but Myers still throws the hit, even leaving his feet for a moment to drive upward with his shoulder.

Myers has the ability to steer directly at Armia, initiating a full, clean body check that is well within the rules of the game. Instead he takes a different route to get into Armia’s blindspot, dips his shoulder and then drives upward with his shoulder into Armia’s head and chest area, and the rest is history.

The NHL reviewed the play in-arena to confirm their call, and after a video review with multiple angles they agreed with the initial call (actually called a “five-minute major” by the referee but officially ruled a match penalty) for checking to the head. The NHL Department of Player Safety — and I use safety with the utmost sarcasm now — has ruled that this play isn’t worth a suspension and that Myers mainly made contact with Armia’s chest.

By the rule of law, Myers was technically allowed to make that hit as the principle point of contact isn’t the head, even if there was still some head contact with his hit. So my question is why the NHL hasn’t figured out that hits like this one are every bit as dangerous as ones that are direct headshots. Armia is engaged with Brock Boeser, at which point he’s turned away from Myers to try to recover a puck. Myers continues into Armia’s blindside and concusses the Habs forward.

Fast forward a week from the hit on Armia to a contest between Montreal and Calgary. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is working behind the net with his back turned to Dillon Dubé. Kotkaniemi spins away from a forechecking Matthew Tkachuk, and Dubé rushes in for a check.

Dubé leads with his forearm, extends up to leave his skates, and drives into Kotkaniemi’s head and neck area, leaving the Finn on the ice collecting his bearings.

Once the continuing play finally came to a halt, the only penalty that was called was on Shea Weber for roughing, and Dubé escaped quite literally unpunished. Kotkaniemi headed to the locker room for concussion testing and was cleared, returning to the bench in the third period, but the larger issue remains that the hit wasn’t called.

Much like the Myers hit, the Department of Player Safety reviewed the play. They ruled there would be no hearing, and nothing further for Dubé in terms of a punishment, which in itself is infuriating. Their reasoning makes less sense when considering the step-by-step process laid out by Cassie Campebell-Pascall on Hockey Night in Canada:

Point 1: The head must be the principal point of contact.

Point 2: Fifty percent or more of the contact must be to the head; surely a hard thing to judge, but necessary to the logic of what “principal” means.

Point 3: The call on the ice by the officials has no impact on a further suspension.

So with all three of those points in mind, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety just flat out ignored them all and issued the following ruling and reasoning.

In their own words, the determination was that Dubé had indeed made direct contact with Kotkaniemi’s head, but because contact was unavoidable, it’s not punishable. In this case, the hit to the head didn’t meet the criteria of a hit to the head penalty.

One has to wonder, if Kotkaniemi hadn’t returned to the game, might things have been different? It’s hard to know for sure because of the almost comical inconsistency coming from DoPS and George Parros.

It’s clear that in the NHL hitting someone in the head isn’t cut-and-dry like it is in every other major sports league across the globe. Even the NFL has automatic rules in place for such hits.

It’s not just this season. This has been an ongoing problem under George Parros for several seasons now. And too many of the most dangerous hits in the game aren’t being punished harshly enough.