2006-11-10

Rule 43

There is plenty of talk about head shots out there today, prompted by the "hard, but clean" hit by Torres on Williams.

Jim Kelley:
"When they apply that high-speed mass plus physical bulk and hard-shell equipment to an opponent's head, the results are near catastrophic. We saw that when Edmonton's Raffi Torres delivered his blow - by any hockey definition a "clean" check - to the head of Williams."

HNIC's Scott Morrison:

"Williams was emerging from the end boards, a few feet from the side of the Oilers goal, when Torres crunched with him a shoulder first check. Television replays showed Torres had built up a healthy head of steam, but stopped striding to avoid a charging penalty, then ran over Williams who appeared to be looking down at the puck."

Bob MacKenzie:

"If you hit him in the head, too bad, there's no rule against it and, in fact, it's tacitly endorsed by the league and the hockey community."

In every single piece discussing the hit, the writer goes out of his/her way to mention that it was clean. To be fair, the Mackenzie quote is lacking context. Bob was speaking from the perspective of those defending the hit.


Now, here's an excerpt from pages 93 & 94 of the Official NHL Rulebook:

" - Charging

43.1 Charging - A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.

Charging shall mean the actions of a player or goalkeeper who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A "charge" may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

...

43.2 Minor Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of charging an opponent.

43.3 Major Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of charging an opponent (see 43.5).

43.4 Match Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgement, the player or goalkeeper attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by charging.

43.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed."

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be airborne to get called for charging. There is no 3-stride guideline, either. Going strictly by the book, Torres could have been given a major and a game misconduct. The check was violent, and the violence resulted from the distance traveled. After that, it's up to the discretion of the referee.

Which begs the question: If the Torres hit was not sufficiently violent to warrant a minor penalty, just how violent would a check have to be to warrant a major??


Some comments from Bobby Orr in the MacKenzie piece:

"Hey, I got hit a lot when I played and I didn't get hit in the head with checks. Players didn't always hit like that. To me, that's not part of bodychecking. I mean, don't you have to be responsible for your actions? If you hit a guy in the face with your stick by accident, you're going to get a penalty. Two minutes, four minutes, five minutes, something. If you go to bodycheck a guy and you hit him in the face or head, and injure him, that's legal? That's fair? That's not a penalty? I'm sorry, I don't think that is right. It should be a penalty."

It seems that the tools are already in place to crack down on hits like Raffi's. It's just a matter of whether there is the will.

4 Comments:

Blogger Olivier said...

Well, I pithy the first ref who will apply those rules without prior backing by the NHLPA, the NHL, and Don Cherry. It would be even worse if the poor slob then told the media " Going strictly by the book, [insert player name] could have been given a major and a game misconduct. The check was violent, and the violence resulted from the distance traveled. After that, it's up to the discretion of the referee."

I mean, I absolutely agree with your comment and wholeheartedly endorse your analysis. But that kind of thinking is flat-out incompatible with hockey's actual culture. The whole "New NHL" mantra is very useful in that regard: it help pull the spotlight from the fact that Hockey still values thuggishness over talent. Just look at any fourth line.

11/10/2006 11:17 PM  
Anonymous kazmojo said...

Bobby Orr touched on the relevant point: that wasn't a body check, that was a head shot. And Torres not only should have been tossed, but his history should have resulted in a suspension.

It reminds me of Bryan Marchment, how he would stick out his leg (resulting in many knee-on-knee hits) when he'd get beat. He had to go through a few suspensions and then a sit down with the NHL brass before they got it through his neanderthal head that while hockey is a contact sport, it's not meant to injure.

Injuries will happen, sure, but most players abide by a certain code of conduct, and especially don't go head hunting a la Raffi Torres.

11/12/2006 5:55 PM  
Anonymous thehockeychick said...

Man, that's a really tough call. Although I agree with the 'clean hit' theory, Bobby Orr brings up a good point. From the angles of the replays, it doesn't look as though Torres was intending to injure Williams.

I wouldn't say it was totally clean because he saw Williams with his head down and dropped his shoulder when he went into him. But I don't believe it was with malicious intent. More of a typical hockey play -- get the guy away from the puck.

Scary situation though. It could've been much worse.

11/13/2006 12:55 PM  
Blogger Jeff J said...

I'm ambivalent about it. On one hand, like most fans, I want to see physical hockey. I want to see hard hits, hits that hurt. On the other hand, I don't want to see hits that injure. It's a difficult situation because you just know that if the league tries to do something about it, it will be done in a typical ham-fisted manner and out goes the baby with the bathwater (see entry for Obstruction, Crackdown On).

And in Raffi's defense, I believe him when he says he doesn't mean to hurt anyone and that he feels terrible about what 'happened' to Jason Williams. He's just doing what he has been rewarded for at every level of hockey. He's more tragic hero than villain.

11/13/2006 1:28 PM  

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