• Where A Big Suspension Is Justified

    by  • September 22, 2013 • Uncategorized • 24 Comments

    There are certain kinds of things that result in suspensions in hockey that I’m pretty soft on. When Raffi Torres smoked Marian Hossa, I thought the league’s reaction was absurd.

    The problem, to the extent that there is one, is a system of rules that renders guys fair game for a long time after they get rid of the puck. The problem is a mishmash rule about when you can hit a guy in the head. As long as hits like the Torres hit can be within a step of being legal, guys are going to miss their assessment of the line and cross it. When you draw these lines, you have to allow for some user error – it’s a fast game. Drawing the lines where the NHL has drawn them, you’re just begging for incidents like Torres on Hossa. The easy thing to do afterwards is to pretend that Torres is a really dirty player and that he always has been.

    When Eric Gryba knocked Lars Eller out last year, I didn’t really have much of a problem with the hit:

    It’s a fast game and things happen and when there’s a blurry dotted line between a legal and an illegal play, sometimes things are going to end up on the wrong side of the line. Suspending guys for that has always troubled me a little bit because, to a certain extent, that’s one of the risks that comes with playing hockey. (I’m pretty progressive on most hockey things and it’s fun being on the neanderthal side of the line on this).

    Which brings us to Zack Kassian breaking Sam Gagner’s jaw:

    What do we have? We have Kassian coming in for a hit, missing it, and swinging his stick blindly with enough force to break Gagner’s jaw. Which he did. This sort of thing reminds me of Marty McSorley on Donald Brashear. I’ve never entirely agreed with the judge’s finding with respect to McSorley:

    He found himself gliding in from centre ice toward Brashear, sizing him up for possible ways to confront him. Brashear crossed directly in front of him, presenting an easy target. Brashear was the focus of all of McSorley’s and Boston’s frustrations. McSorley had to do something; he might still be able to start a fight. In the words of McSorley, “It has to be an instantaneous reaction.” He had an impulse to strike him in the head. His mindset, always tuned to aggression, permitted that. He slashed for the head. A child, swinging as at a Tee ball, would not miss. A housekeeper swinging a carpetbeater would not miss. An NHL player would never, ever miss. Brashear was struck as intended.

    With the greatest of respect for Kitchen J., I don’t think he watches enough hockey. NHL players miss things all the time. It’s a game of seconds, of inches. The legal system’s the legal system and the NHL’s disciplinary system is the NHL’s disciplinary system though. I accept McSorley’s defence that he wasn’t trying to slash Brashear in the head but to me it’s sort of irrelevant and it should be to the NHL. McSorley was trying to do something in total violation of the rules, he screwed up and Brashear was badly injured. That’s different than a legal play gone wrong and it’s fair and sensible to impose a much higher onus on players trying to do something in violation of the rules to make sure it doesn’t go wrong.

    Unlike Gryba and Torres, Kassian has no defence that he was trying to perform a legal act and botched it. He was swinging his stick dangerously. Taylor Hall was quoted as saying “When your stick is flailing around like that, it’s your fault” but with all due respect to Hall, that wasn’t a stick flailing incident. It was a stick swinging incident. A stick flailing incident is where you don’t have control of your stick and you accidentally catch a guy, like if you’re trying to lift a stick and miss. Legal plays gone wrong. You don’t tend to hear about broken jaws or bones after those.

    This was a stick swinging incident. That’s an important distinction. Kassian committed an illegal play in a reckless fashion and broke Gagner’s jaw. The NHL should have absolutely zero tolerance for that. If I ran the league, that’s the sort of stuff that would draw the huge suspensions. This is the sort of stuff that you can get out of the game by absolutely crucifying people who transgress, unlike with legal plays gone wrong.

    What do I expect the NHL to do? Well, the Canucks and Oilers play in their second game of the season on HNIC and the league doesn’t like bloodbaths on national TV as a rule. They don’t play for a while after that though. My guess? Two games. It should be something in double digits but for whatever reason, the league has historically cared more about stuff like some tomato can coming off the bench to look for another tomato can for a facepunching contest than it does about actual wildly dangerous and indefensible stuff like this stick swinging incident.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    24 Responses to Where A Big Suspension Is Justified

    1. David S
      September 22, 2013 at

      Well spoken Tyler. It’s long been my feeling that suspensions in blatant cases like this should be equal in length to the amount of time the injured player misses.

    2. Paul
      September 22, 2013 at

      I like Kassian a lot as a player, but I didn’t like this one bit. Agreed wholeheartedly – suspend for a long time.

    3. Fraser
      September 22, 2013 at

      Nice take. If the the NHL wants to improve the legitimacy of its disciplinary review process, it should should publish pieces like this after each review regardless of whether discipline is imposed.

    4. Tom Benjamin
      September 22, 2013 at

      I agree with you on the general principle, but I’m not sure about the application to this case. Was Kassian trying to hit Gagner with his stick? Whether he connected or not, throw the book at him. If he tried to hit him in the chest and got him in the jaw, throw the book at him. (I think the judge was wrong in the McSorely case too. He did not believe Marty when he said he tried to hit Brashear in the shoulder. I did believe him, but I don’t think it makes any difference.)

      It isn’t so clear to me in this case. Why is Hall wrong? It looked like irresponsible flailing to me. I’m not necessarily against a suspension in this case – why shouldn’t irresponsible flailing bring supplementary discipline too? – but make it a precedent. Don’t call it a deliberate attempt to injure to justify the suspension. Call it what it was – dangerously careless – and suspend him for being dangerously careless. Send the message that the failure to take due care will not be tolerated.

      • September 25, 2013 at


        Please start blogging again. Thanks.

        - Everyone

    5. Tyler Dellow
      September 22, 2013 at

      Tom -

      I don’t think that it’s a deliberate attempt to injure. I think he swung backwards as hard he could one handed. He was unlucky in that he caught Gagner in the face and broke his jaw – I assume he just wanted to whack him in the chest and have it hurt.

    6. Tom Benjamin
      September 23, 2013 at

      My first thought was that Gagner beat him pretty badly and Kassian was out of control. He has a little stumble, he bounces off the boards and his stick flies backward as he turned. I don’t think he even looks in Gagner’s direction until the stick hits him. Still, I can’t be sure. Did Kassian intend to forcefully hit Gagner with his stick? If yes, 15 games would be in my ballpark. Two games would be a travesty.

      But the answer to the question may be “No, he did not intend anything. He gave no thought to where his stick was going after he hit the boards. He didn’t give a thought to anything because he was out of control.” If this was the case, the NHL usually declares it to be a careless accident and usually imposes only the double minor. (The reason for this, I think, is that the league wants reckless play. It is part of the show. Out of control is the way some guys play. Very nearly out of control is the way the rest of them play.)

      For once it will be interesting to hear the reasoning on this one. I don’t have a problem with a suspension for dangerous carelessness. “Kassian (and everyone else) has to play more under control. Two games for flailing” is fine by me. What I don’t want to hear is “Kassian deliberately whacked him with his stick. Two games.”

      If I had to bet, I’d say the league gives him a pass.

      • Mark Shmeela
        September 23, 2013 at

        I find it hard to believe that the stick swing was because he lost control on a missed a hit. The way I see the replay Kassian was going into the boards to make contact with his right hip. When Gagner stops and it becomes clear he is going to miss he starts to rotate his arm in Gagner’s direction. It’s not like Kassian was going into the hit spinning and his momentum just carried through. In my opinion there are two separate actions: The attempted check moving in laterally, and then the rotation after he knows he isn’t going to make contact.

      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        September 23, 2013 at

        He won’t get a pass, but you’re probably correct. This was EXTREMELY careless/reckless. But it was also clearly not a deliberate intent to injure. He wasn’t looking at Gagner, he had only one hand on his stick, and he was off-balance. Oilers fans have a right to be upset, and Dellow’s still hot under the collar over losing Gagner for a period of time, but when cooler heads prevail, you’ll all see that this was nowhere close to McSorley-Brashear or any of a whole host of two-handed, fully controlled, intentional stick chops.

    7. Dawn
      September 23, 2013 at

      In the cold light of 2 mornings later, I find my stance softening a bit. Yesterday, I was all about crucifying Kassian and taking one of the Sedin’s out on Oct 5. There was little doubt in my mind that the intent was to injure.

      Watching it again now, I’m ready to concede that it could have been accidental, a carry through of Kassian’s collision with the boards. That said, it was a horribly reckless action with a stick that could easily have turned out worse. Had it been an inch or two lower, Sam could have been suffocating on the ice with a crushed larynx.

      The league says you are responsible for your stick. And injury is taken into consideration when determining discipline.The in person hearing (as reported by John Shannon) indicates the league is taking this incident seriously. I look forward to Shanahan’s video review.

    8. Craig
      September 23, 2013 at

      Never read your work before – just happened to see your comments about this incident and it made me wonder what your thoughts were on the play last season where Taylor Hall injured Cal Clutterbuck with what appeared to be an intentional knee on knee. As I recall he was given 1 game – was that the right call?

      • Tyler Dellow
        September 23, 2013 at

        Two games. And Hall had a clean bodycheck lined up, Clutterbuck moved and Hall finished the hit anyway. I was fine with it. Again – hockey play gone wrong. Not what this was.

        • Craig
          September 24, 2013 at

          Go back and watch the hit on Clutterbuck again and define clean. The league ruled that Clutterbuck never controlled the puck nor was it ever reasonable to expect that he would control the puck. Hall skated a long way with his head looking in Clutterbuck’s direction the entire time. He had way more time to avoid doing something stupid than Kassian did. There was nothing clean or legal about the hit on Clutterbuck and the league suspended Hall for 2 games. To dismiss the hit on Clutterbuck as a legal hockey play gone wrong only makes sense if you’re wearing an Oilers sweater. Hitting another player with a stick or with your knee with the intent to injure is dumb, neither is legal and both should be looked upon and dealt with the same way. To say one is fine and the other deserves a huge suspension just supports why it’s really impossible for the league to ever get it right. No matter how stupid someone may be on the ice there will always be people who defend them and dismiss their actions as something other than what it was.

          • dawgbone
            September 25, 2013 at

            The fact that Clutterbuck barely missed missed the puck on his attempt to reach it doesn’t really change it from being a hockey play to not being a hockey play.

            Further to that, Hall caught him on the thigh (which is a legal place to hit someone) and got him with his hip (which is a legal place to hit someone with).

    9. Colin
      September 23, 2013 at

      Doesn’t Kassian train with MMA guys in the off-season? That’s a perfectly executed spinning backfist with his stick. Completely intentional.

    10. Bill
      September 23, 2013 at

      Taylor Hall knows all about swinging his stick uncontrollably. Just ask Zybnek Michalek.

    11. Greg Steinke
      September 23, 2013 at

      He intentionally chose to hit Gagner with his stick. He did not intend for it to fly as high as it did and hit him in the head. Either way his intent was to illegally hit Gagner with his stick. He should be out as long as Gagner is out. The league needs to find a way to penalize the whole team when one of their lesser players injures a star player.

    12. Tyler Dellow
      September 23, 2013 at

      I’m a little baffled that people seem to think that because Kassian wasn’t looking at Gagner, this is somehow less bad. Do you think he didn’t know where he was?

      • Peachy
        September 23, 2013 at

        The implication is that it’s far more likely to be a reckless act, as opposed to intent to injure.

        The difference between the two in this context means the difference between a Bouchard-ish suspension and a Simon-ish suspension.

    13. FastOil
      September 23, 2013 at

      If it wasn’t an intent to injure (which is indefensible because there is no other reason to swing a hockey stick at a person when the puck is well gone) he should be suspended for being stupid and a lout. Or are those players traits the NHL condones in it’s quest for popularity in the US?

    14. FastOil
      September 23, 2013 at

      The difference between Hall and Kassian is that one wouldn’t do it if the league management was any good, and one still would. You can put Kessel and Scott together that way too, it isn’t truthful.

    15. Mr DeBakey
      September 23, 2013 at

      “I had no intention of slashing him in the face,” Kassian told reporters [per TSN]

      Not “I had no intention of slashing him”

    16. Tom Benjamin
      September 24, 2013 at

      And the league wonders why the supplementary discipline system has no credibility. The decision was either too lenient (if Kassian deliberately struck Gagner) or too harsh (if the blow was inadvertant). Worse, Shanahan mealy-mouths his way past the critical issue.

      Did Shanahan believe the blow was deliberate, an attempt to strike Gagner with his stick? He does not explicitly say because if he was explicit, the suspension is clearly wrong. Shanahan is saying, “If it was deliberate, Kassian deserves at least ten games. If it was an accident, he deserves nothing. We don’t know whether there was intent, so we will call it a (cough) deliberate (cough) accident and give him five games.”

      No precedent. No message. No justice. No satisfaction.

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