When Brendan Shanahan first started issuing videos to explain his decisions, I wondered for how long it would last. While I think it’s great, the problem with doing it is that you end up building a library of precedents, in which people can pick apart your reasoning. This is a problem for the NHL, where discipline has traditionally factored in such things as “was the offending player a star?” and “how much stink are we getting?”
Precedents can be an awkward thing. For one, when you start to explain your rationale, people can do comparisons on other decisions to see whether your rationale holds up. If you aren’t careful, you start to look ridiculous. Possibly related to that, Brendan Shanahan issued a video rationale for his decision to suspnd Jordin Tootoo for two games. Shanahan said:
After Tootoo makes his decision to drive the net and has the puck knocked off his stick, Tootoo peeks up and sees Miller in his crease and in his path. Although Ehrhoff does make body contact, we do not feel it was significant enough that it altered Tootoo’s path into Ryan Miller. The onus, therefore, is on Tootoo to avoid or, at the very least, minimize his contact with the goaltender.
An aside: I have no idea where this idea that a player coming towards the crease has the onus to avoid or minimize contact with the goalie. I don’t see it in the rules anywhere. It’s not found in the charging goal. I’m not saying it’s not a legitimate thing to legislate, only that it’s news to me that this is a rule. Collisions between players and goalies happen all the time when players drive the net or lose an edge or something. Is Shanahan asserting that players are under some sort of duty to take care around the net? It’s all new to me.
This is the the photo on the screen that Shanahan is referring to when he says “Tootoo peeks up.” I’m going to come back to this but note where Ehrhoff’s stick is. Tootoo is, what, five feet away from Miller at this point? And Miller is sort of half-in, half-out of his crease?
Let’s compare this to when Lucic first noticed Miller. If you watch the video in full, you notice something interesting – Lucic stops skating before he even gets to the circle. He’s just finishing his last stride in the picture below.
I’m pretty sure I know why Lucic stopped skating: he saw Miller and knew he wasn’t going to get to the puck. If he thinks that Miller’s in the net and the puck is loose, he’s going to be hell bent for leather. Have you ever, in your life, seen a situation in which an attacking player has twenty feet of space on a back checker and just sort of moseys towards a loose puck? It doesn’t happen.
If you accept that Lucic sees Miller at that point, we’re talking about him being at least twenty feet away. It looks to me, in the standard broadcast shot, like his head comes up at that point, but you can’t really tell for sure on the broadcast. The decision to stop skating is, to me, the smoking gun.
I mentioned Ehrhoff’s stick up above. You get a better shot at it here. You can see that, in swinging his stick to knock the puck off Tootoo’s stick, he got his stick around Tootoo and, given that he was so close to the goalie, the stick then becomes jammed on Miller’s right side, while Ehrhoff holds the knob in his hand. Tootoo is effectively trapped.
You can also see how Tootoo’s feet are angled as he’s trying to cut to the net. With all of his weight trying to come out front, and Ehrhoff’s stick effectively preventing him from getting out to the front of the net, he has, in my view, nowhere to go.
It gets weirder.
While we believe that Tootoo’s motivation on this play was to attempt to score, and not to hit Miller, the fact remains that it is the attacking player’s responsibility to make a better effort not to crash directly into the opposing goaltender. The goaltender must feel protected in his crease. It should be noted that interference with a goalkeeper can be penalized with a minor. There will be times when the contact with the goaltender and the call on the ice will be suitable for the offence. However, we feel the on-ice call of charging and a game misconduct for this particular offence was correct and that the supplemental discipline was necessary because of the force of the collision and the lack of any significant interference steering Tootoo into the goaltender.
Again: no idea where this responsibility on the part of the attacking player to make a better effort not to run into him accidentally comes from. As explained above, I think Shanahan’s wrong about the lack of interference. I think the move that he’s expecting Tootoo to have made is a bit much. When you watch the video, you can tell what Tootoo was trying to do – he was trying to bring the puck across the front of the net. His bodyweight is going that direction and it’s taken away from him and then he gets jammed with Ehrhoff’s stick.
42.1 Charging – A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.
Charging shall mean the actions of a player 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.
A minor, major or a major and a game misconduct shall be imposed on a player who charges a goalkeeper while the goalkeeper is within his goal crease.
A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease area. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an opposing player makes unnecessary contact with a goalkeeper. However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the Referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.
42.2 Minor Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player guilty of charging an opponent.
42.3 Major Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player guilty of charging an opponent (see 42.5).
42.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by charging.
42.5 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.
OK – so we can understand both the Lucic and Tootoo penalties as being the referee exercising his discretion to assess penalties based on the degree of violence of the check. (This of course, requires you accept that Tootoo checked Miller, as opposed to just ran into him because he had nowhere else to go.) What’s baffling though is the game misconduct for Tootoo. Miller didn’t leave the game. His helmet doesn’t seem to have been knocked off. He doesn’t even seem to have gone to the bench. Shanahan actually says in the suspension video that there’s no apparent injury.
Where, then, is the injury that warrants the game misconduct? The rules are clear that the referee has discretion to give a minor, major or match – there doesn’t seem to be any discretion for him to give a game misconduct unless there’s an injury. How can that call be correct?
(See Dirk’s comments below. He has convinced me that I misunderstood the rule. *Mutters darkly about sloppy drafting.* I still don’t get how this is a suspension and Lucic wasn’t.)
The answer to all of this, of course, is that it’s nonsense. Milan Lucic is a marquee player, Jordin Tootoo is a spare part. The referees were aware of all the light and sound after the Lucic thing, because they pay attention. Tootoo has a reputation as a rouser of rabbles. New boss. New videos. Same decision making.