Around the League

Dirty hits and their impact on the league

Suit’s post yesterday was spot on about the need for grit, not goons, on this Rangers team. Though the Rangers need grit, the goons have been out in full force this past weekend in the NHL. For as long as I can remember being a fan, the debate of banning fighting has been around, but that’s not what we’ve seen this past weekend; we’ve seen extremely dangerous and unsportsmanlike hits. Let’s take a look at three of them, and what potential suspensions may arise.

James Neal knees Brad Marchand – Saturday, 12/7, Pens vs Bruins

This case is pretty ugly. Marchand is tripped and laying on the ice with his head up when Neal skates towards the puck and, en route, ensures that his knee makes direct contact with Marchand’s head. I’m not sure what’s most offensive about this play – that he kneed Marchand while he was down in the head, or that he skated off like it was no big deal. The fact that Marchand is a pesky player who routinely gets under the opposing teams skin is never an excuse to make such an abusive play. Neal had his hearing yesterday and was given a 5 game suspension, in part due to the lack of injury from the play, and also in part due to his history (Neal has been fined once and suspended once in the past 3 seasons). This was only a small part of a rough game, which saw 40 minutes of penalty time, including a game misconduct on the next play in this series…

Shawn Thornton assaults Brooks Orpik – Saturday, 12/7, Pens vs Bruins

Well, okay. If this happened off the ice, Brooks Orpik could press charges. To quote one of my favorites, that’s assault brotha’. You just can’t do this. A little background: Orpik, in the first minute of the game, had a questionable open ice hit against Loui Eriksson which resulted in an injury. He declined fighting Thornton immediately, which caused Thornton to sit in the box for 2 minutes to think about the roughing he had done. Now let’s fast forward to the Marchand incident, just 10 minutes later. Obviously upset with the play on Marchand, the players gather while the trainers tend to Marchand. Thornton skates behind Orpik, slew foots him down to the ice and punches him in the face repeatedly. Again, Orpik is a player that some may deem dirty or who doesn’t play fair, but an eye for an eye won’t really work here. Orpik is then stretchered off the ice to the hospital. Let’s make something very clear: there is absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior, in hockey or in life. Thornton will have an in-person hearing with Shanahan today, and I would make a guess that he’ll get 10 games, given the fact that Orpik has been placed on the IR and the unbelievably aggressive nature of the attack.

Dion Phaneuf boards Kevin Miller – Sunday, 12/8 – Bruins vs Leafs

Phaneuf, captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the last 2+ minutes of a game that they were losing badly, sees Miller after a scrum around the boards for a puck and flat out shoves his face into the boards. I don’t really know what point he was trying to get across – a message? Letting off some stress? Generally being an unpleasant person? Everything about this hit upsets me. For starters, Miller was losing footing near the puck, and Clarkson was in the vicinity trying to make the play. Secondly, not only does Phaneuf speed up to hit him directly between the numbers, as Miller is slipping up he lowers his arm to smash Miller’s face into the boards. How this was not a penalty is so far beyond me. Phaneuf has his hearing today at 10am, which should be interesting since he’s never been suspended. I think he has to get 3 games, regardless of history or penalty call.

These plays bring about a lot of questions. Should injury sustained be a deciding factor in suspension? We’ve seen this recently (the Neal video alludes to the fact that Marchand did not sustain an injury in its decision making) as well as years ago with the Department of Player Safety induction (remember Hagelin elbowing Alfredsson in the 2011-2012 playoffs vs. Ottawa? Alfie missed a game, Hagelin missed 3 and the hashtag #FreeHags was created).  But what if teams sit their players now after a questionable hit to make the punishment worse?

Former Rangers and nonstop thorn in the side of former Rangers management Sean Avery tweeted out this gem Sunday, which alludes to the fact that Orpik got what he deserved. With a record like Orpik’s of being a dirty player, it’s hard to argue that a certain style of play begets that same treatment; however is that what hockey has come to? Who’s to say that now Thornton shouldn’t be playing with his head up on a swivel every game because of his cheap shots?

Of the plays, it’s easy to say that Thornton’s was the most outrageously violent. I would argue that Phaneuf’s is one to be most concerned about, as it is a play that we see too often and we’ve seen end careers too often as well. Though the fighting debate may never end, we absolutely have to see a stop to these filthy plays that taint the sport and take away from player safety and fan enjoyment.

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  • I agree with just about everything you’ve stated here, Becky.

    However, you mentioned a perception of Orpik as a dirty player. I haven’t really witnessed this, though I don’t watch too many Penguins games.

    Could you elaborate?

    • Yeah, he’s known as being pretty dirty. If you watch the gif of the Eriksson hit, you can see he leaves his feet and targets his head. Eriksson was concussed on the play and it’s his second this season. That’s definitely why Thornton went after him, though a concussion for a concussion just makes Orpik look like the victim here…. it’s just no good.

      • I guess we’ll disagree on this one. I like the Orpik hit on Erikkson. It’s the type of hit you absolutely want your physical defensemen to make; they need to step up and take the body. Orpik drops his shoulder and hits Eriksson square in the chest. There is no head contact, only snap-back. And I’m not seeing Orpik leave his feet at all. Sorry, but this is a good hockey hit.

        Still not finding anything dirty on Orpik in YouTube either. Can you point me to a specific incident that you’re aware of that suggests he’s a dirty player?

          • First of all, I didn’t say that I find that hit on Cole to be clean. I asked if you could provide an example. I wasn’t being a smart @ss, I was honestly asking for an example because I haven’t seen that side of Orpik.

            And if you have to go back 6 years to find a hit, then I’d say Orpik is not a dirty player. He’s a hard-nosed hockey player who’s been around long enough to have a bad hit or two under his belt. A dirty player it does not make.

          • I still see very little that is dirty or beyond the pale about these incidents. Hockey is a rough sport, what can I say. The knee on Stepan looks far worse than it was. These guys are flying around at 30mph. You react and try to impede someone and sometimes the result looks ugly.

            I still don’t think Orpik is dirty. He’s very physical and some of his play has had injurious results for his opponents. He’s a guy you want on your team, though.

          • Calling a player dirty or not dirty but borderline dirty seems kind of like an odd argument to get stubborn about. The whole topic is kind of subjective IMO.

            Good post Becky. Appreciate the updates.

          • Suit,

            I’m not taking the position that he is borderline dirty either.

            Being a dirty player, in my view, suggests a blatant disregard for the rules coupled with intentional violation of those rules with intent to injure, or least flagrant disregard for player safety.

            Orpik plays hard. Sometimes guys get hurt when you play hard against them. Doesn’t mean you have no respect for rules or player safety.

            Not sure why it’s a stubborn position other than the mere fact that it’s obviously not the popular view. I’m not going to suddenly proclaim Orpik dirty -against my own better judgment- simply because that is the prominent view here.

          • Great video clip. There is proof positive that Orpik is dirty, and classless. The announcer stated that Orpik is a strong man, well, why wouldn’t he defend himself against Thorton, he is a coward, goes after a weak, non physical player like Louie Ericksson, leaving his feet to get maxium effect of his hit. Thanks for the link!!

      • Becky

        Yesterday I went round and round defending Thorton for his actions. I see plenty of Pens games, and say what you may, Orpik is a dirty player. Listening to the Pens coach yesterday on video, he stated that not every hit should be taken as a reason to have to fight someone. If you dish out garbage, you had better be ready to defend your actions.

        If anyone goes after Cindy girl, the whole team comes to his defense. We can’t check him without the bench getting ready to get into a fight over it, while when Orpik was challenged, he cowered, and wouldn’t fight. He also went after a guy who is not a fighter, and has a concussion history, went off his feet to make the hit, now that takes a big man to do that, NOT. Again, when challenged, he cowered, just like Mario Le Wimp did for years. That is the Lemieux legacy.

        I said this before, and I’ll say it again, live by the sword, and die by the same sword. The Pens, Orpik, their owner, their coach, their captain, are all whiners!!!

  • There is no place for Thorton’s actions in hockey, however, there are dozens of places where it is useful in life. Good stuff Beckz

  • The Orpik hit was a dirty hit not a hockey hit The puck isn’t even on Eriksons’ stick when Orpik lowers the boom driving his shoulder to Lou’s head. The league at one time was trying to curb shots to the head but I guess if you wear a Pittsburg jersy its all good.

    Orpik is also notorious for sticking out his knee to get a pick of the opposition as he did to Derek Stephan and on a couple of instances during the playoffs. I feel for Lou Erikson as he may be out of action for a long time, but have zero sympathy for Orpik, Thornton or Neal right now.

    A player can play tough and take the man but this kind of crap crossing the line. Orpik is not a victim here he should be suspended for his involvement.

    • Thank you Bloomer, for saying the truth, Orpik is filthy. Thorton is a stand up guy, went too far, but seeing Marchand lying on the ice, after seeing Ericksson get concussed, and Kelly getting his ankel broken by a slash from DuPwee was just too much for him to take. I’ll take Thorton on my team any day!!!!!

      • You guys are blind. Orpik came no where close to Eriksson’s head.

        Take off your division rival blinders for a second and watch the friggin’ video. That’s a hit you love if a Ranger throws it!

          • Um… Becky… you don’t have to hit someone in the head to cause a concussion. Any impact on the body that is forceful enough to cause the head to whip back results in the brain making contact with the skull. If hard enough, a clean body check can most definitely cause a concussion.

        • Chris

          You may need glasses, I saw him leave his feet, to get max effect, and came reel close to getting his head. Call it what you want, dirty hit.

        • Agree with Chris- not a head target. Orpik is an aggressive D man and was tracking the anticipated outlet but he jumped early but the puck never got there. Right call made. Orpik was challenged and didn’t want to dance but that never stopped the instigator to attack while the other guy turtles. That option would have been better than to stew and slewfoot the guy and while his head is on the ice you try to drive it through the ice. Neals action was in the same category as Thornton. Both actions don’t come close to a hockey hit gone bad

  • I have two words:
    Todd Bertuzzi

    The fact that Bertuzzi is still playing hockey and Steve Moore cannot says it all.

    • There are certain plays that you can’t help, either. See Phaneuf’s hit on Sauer that ended his career: it was a completely clean hit that just caused a terrible effect. Situations like that are unfortunate, but when you sneak up and sucker punch someone from behind and cause permanent damage, that’s beyond unacceptable. Apparently Thornton had a temper issue throughout his life and it reared its ugly head on Saturday.

        • Wrongly expressed by me. It’s just that I hate the crap, would prefer that the NHL would suspend players for multiple games for garbage, but they won’t, and until they do, this kind of junk will continue to happen. In this case, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player.

  • Not sure if this is an over-simplified recourse to minimize or hopefully put an end to the dirty hits and play that intends to injure another player. If the referee/league officials deem a hit or play (like a kick to the head) to be malicious with intent to injure, that player is suspended (with or without pay) for the entire duration the injured player is disabled. In other words, a player goes above and beyond on a dirty hit concusses an opposing player and that player is out for 3 months with a concussion, the penalized player is also out of the line-up for 3 months. If the player is out for the season, you are too. If players approach each game knowing this, I believe they would think twice before leveling a vicious dirty hit or play.

    • I had suggested something along this line about a month ago, and agree 100% with you. Again, the problems starts at the top, and until the NHL addresses this issue, we will continue to see guys go down, for extended period of time. It’ just not right!

    • This has been brought up in the past, and it has solid justification, I just think it makes too much sense for the league (and the NHLPA) to adopt.

    • Still wouldn’t stop a team from sending out a goon to take down another team’s star player, then just pay him under the table. How about, when a player is suspended, the team loses that roster spot. i.e.: the suspended player can’t be replaced until the suspension is over? That impacts the team, as well as the player, and I’m pretty sure that coaches would crack down on their own team’s dirty players if it meant saving a roster spot.

      • Maybe my favorite idea yet. Kenny’s, where a player has to sit for as long as the guy he injured can get complicated. Is the injured player a 3rd liner? Then lets call him “injured” for longer than need be so that the other guy can’t help his team get points. Just an example.

        You’re suggestion is actually a bit more in a vacuum with less ability for a team to game the system. Also, it heightens the importance for team accountability. You really do hurt your team by playing dumb. Coaches would hold their own players to higher standards.

        Solid idea, Joe.

    • I agree with you to a point, but it’s too dependent on the outcome of the dirty hit, and not the hit itself. The suspensions just need to get more severe. Three or five games are barely a slap on the wrist. That Neal hit, for me, would be at least half the remainder of the season.

  • Idk if its just short term memory but it seems like these type of hits are more frequent while fighting has decreased, that’s based on no numbers whatsoever but the guys that seem to have respect for one another while the normies will willingly crush peoples heads into the boards

  • Neal’s hit was outrageous, not even so much because of the effect, but the intent. Sticking a knee out to hit someone in the head is just crazy.
    At least Thornton has admitted repeatedly that he was wrong, and didn’t make excuses. Orpik might have deserved to catch a beating, but not like that.
    Phaneuf…I can’t even begin to express my feelings on him.
    Overall I really like what Kenny wrote. I don’t think it’s oversimplified at all. As a matter of fact, the league really should implement this sort of policy.
    However, we’ll still likely see bad hits/incidents occurring simple because there are guys who will ‘get lost in the moment’, so to speak. It’s one thing to have an intellectual knowledge that a dirty hit will earn you a big suspension going into any game. But it’s quite another to actually have that thought run through your mind mid-shift, while you’re playing hard. I’m in no way defending what any of these players did, but as a player I know there isn’t much time/space on the ice to stop and think “well, I guess I probably shouldn’t hit that guy b/c I don’t want a suspension if he gets hurt”. Although, this doesn’t apply to Thornton, who had plenty of time to mull over how he was going to respond to Orpik.
    Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever really see the end of these dirty plays.

  • Very much like the additional dimension Becky brings to the boards here. A little out of market coverage and rumblings from around the National is a very welcome change of pace.

    The fact that I tend to agree with what you preach is just gravy. Incidents like what Thorton did as well as the infamous Bertuzzi incident have no place in the show. They’re more criminal than hockey plays.

    Another development that I don’t much care for is the apparent need for a player to stand up for a teammate who gets rocked (even if the hit is clean) and fight the guy who doled out the hit. Some of my favorite plays in hockey are the big Scott Stevens / Nicklas Kronwall type hits, provided they don’t target the head and are ‘clean’. A guy who throws a big one shouldn’t have to answer the bell every time he doles out a nice hockey hit. I understand teammates standing up for teammates but many times, those efforts are misguided.

    • The key word in your post is CLEAN! I loved when Stevens hip checked Lindros, and or when he took other players out with CLEAN checks. When you leave your feet, to hit someone, or go knee on knee, as Orpik has done over time, that isn’t clean, and should have to defend his actions!! I agree with you though.

  • Let’s face it folks, the NHL is a garage league & why I enjoy it less than I ever have. The suspensions are a complete joke. Neal should get a minimum 25 games for that completely unnecessary intent to injure. Whether a player is injured or not is irrelevant. I guess they are waiting for someone to die(a coming event) before they get serious. Phaneuf already ended Sauer’s career, maybe he wants to add a few more to his gunbelt. A five or three game suspension isn’t going to do it. The players have no respect for each other and the league encourages violence because they espouse the same moronic philosophy as the Don Cherry’s of the world. It’s a f@#@!%$ disgrace!!

    • You know… I don’t completely disagree with this sentiment. Nothing will change until the league (and the NHLPA – which is just as accountable for the feeble suspensions) changes its stance. Not verbally which it does at every turn, but with its actions.

    • Actually in Don Cherry’s idealized world, on ice justice would get rid of cheap shots almost entirely. The idea is that you don’t headhunt, etc, because you know someone will beat you or one of your teammates down in response. But that is based on guys having pride and standing up for their actions if they have crossed the line. Guys like Orpik target the head or knees and don’t answer the bell….which always leads to escalating violence.

  • Well written article, Becky.

    I will point out that the Bruins have, for years, been cheap shot artists under the guise of toughness.

    It’s one element of the game why they have success yearly. They not only have no concern about injuring opponents, they actively attempt to injure opponents.

  • All dirty players. They all got what they deserved.

    Phan rigs hit was particularly gruesome but hey he gets away with career murder regularly. Aka michael sauer.

      • It was but the thing about Phaneuf is that he lines up guys and travels a long way to crush them. Used to be called charging back in the day.

      • If you call drilling a guy in the face with your shoulder while he is looking down and leading with your arms high. I watched the video and if you think that was shoulder to chest your smoking crack.

  • Want to stop this stuff . Neal gets 5 games and the Cindy’s have to play with one less player in the line up for all 5 games . Maybe then managment will start to tell their players to think a little more out there about what they are doing .any player suspended the team plays short on the bench for the same lenght of time

  • Nice stuff Becks!

    Im probably on my own today, but I think that Thornton’s actions are perhaps not the worst from these three.
    It looks to me that orpik was also picking a fight with a bruin hitch makes it 2 to 1… And in some weird sense I can understand it that it was enough in Thornton’s mind, after all the incidents that happened. To me it looks like roughing which went pretty damn bad. Besides the slew foot it looks like the same stuff that Boyle did to Karlsson of the senators… Only with different results… And at that time we loved it…
    So I’m not ready to judge him yet…

    The stuff Neal pulled… Man I don’t even have words for that… If Thornton is assault, than I think this is attempted murder. This has nothing to do with sports or hockey.

    The hit from Phaneuf is pretty bad too, i don’t know what happened in his mind…

    Btw if erikson did not play the puck, how is that not a dirty hit? Because as far as I understand the rules, somebody need to play the puck before you can hit him, right?

    Furthermore I can understand the idea about suspending somebody during the injury the person but accidents happen too. Look at the Phaneuf hit on Sauer, how do you determine it was intentional, and is it reasonable to suspend somebody for life?
    The practical implications are just not workable I’m afraid.

    Furthermore, complex systems, which you can arguably call the nhl/hockey teams, function the best at the edge of chaos, which inherently means that people within the system are going to search for the limit. So if the refereeing and post game discipline systems do not work properly, chaos will arise, because everything is random and randomness is hard to anticipate…

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