Jim Neveau, Blackhawks Correspondent
Saturday afternoon was a tale of two emotions at the United Center: disbelief at the fact that the Nashville Predators somehow were in a game they were being massively out-shot in, and the euphoria that surrounded the events of the last five minutes and change of game time.
Everyone already knows the story about how Patrick Kane scored a short-handed goal with 13.6 seconds left to send the game into overtime, and that Marian Hossa scored the game winning goal shortly after coming out of the penalty box from his five minute major penalty.
Everyone who cares to follow the team (or the NHL playoffs in general) also has no doubt seen the video of Marian Hossa hammering Dan Hamhuis into the boards and earning the above mentioned five minute major for boarding. Opinions have been flowing freely across the internet as to the legality/dirtiness of the hit, and the NHL responded to the play by declining to suspend Hossa for Game 6 in Nashville on Monday night.
Check out the video of the play here:
With the NHL’s decision rendered in the case, the debate has begun as to whether or not their choice to not send Hossa to the press box for a game was the correct one. Nashville supporters, as well as some members of the hockey media, have decried the hit as worthy of suspension, and some have compared it to the Alex Ovechkin hit on Brian Campbell that broke Soup’s collar bone and caused him to miss five weeks of game action.
Other folks, meanwhile, have defended Hossa, saying that a one-handed shove to Hamhuis’ side (who had the puck when the infraction occurred) doesn’t even come close to reaching the level of Ovechkin’s cross-check to a prone Campbell’s back.
In this observer’s opinion, the Hossa hit was indeed a reckless play, but it did not rise to the level necessary for Hossa to be suspended for it. There are two key reasons why this is the case:
Hossa has no prior history of dirty hits of this nature. He is more of a pure scorer, instead of a jack-of-all-trades like Ovechkin attempts to be. Hossa isn’t known for throwing his body around, and Ovechkin relishes the chance to do so.
This type of physical play has gotten Ovechkin suspended twice this season for illegal hits. Yes, his goal scoring exploits are highlight reel worthy and carry a great deal of entertainment value, but as long as he continues to hit players with the reckless abandon that he does, the anger caused by his play will dog him and perhaps lead to more suspensions in the future.
The other factor in support of the NHL’s decision is that Hossa did not receive a game misconduct penalty, likely because the officials merely thought the play was foolish but not one that was intended to injure Hamhuis. Ovechkin, on the other hand, was given the gate for his play on Campbell, and deservedly so. He hit a vulnerable player who did not have possession of the puck, and the injury that Campbell received merely underscores the fact that it was an ill-advised play on the part of Ovechkin.
The NHL likes to back its officials (see its reaction to the Alex Burrows situation), and the decision to not suspend Hossa reflects that the league likes to allow its officials to determine the severity of punishment during the course of game action, instead of second guessing them later.
Yes, the hit by Hossa was not a clean play. He may not have been trying to injure Hamhuis, but that doesn’t change the fact that he very well could have. Hossa was simply trying to knock Hamhuis off kilter, but at that speed and that close to the boards, it was a dirty hit that could have ended much worse physically for Dan than it did.
Hamhuis was also right in saying that “it’s a very vulnerable position going back for a puck like that, and usually forwards give you a little more respect on a play like that.” His sentiments echo those of quite a few of the proponents of a Hossa suspension, and he’s right in saying that the player who is the trailer in a puck chase has to be very careful about where he places his hands on the person leading the charge.
If the NHL had elected to suspend Hossa, it would have been easy to see why. That being said, however, the NHL was correct in its decision not to suspend Hossa. Marian clearly was not trying to hurt Hamhuis, but he made a bad hockey decision that was made to look a lot worse than it was by how hard Hamhuis hit the boards. The fact that Hossa has no track record of this kind of play certainly supports the claim by the league that it was a one time lapse, instead of a repeating pattern that needs to be squelched with a suspension.
Nashville fans are likely to give Hossa the Philadelphia treatment tomorrow night every time he touches the puck, and the folks who will be in attendance at Bridgestone Arena will have every right to be upset. Hossa’s actions on the hit in question were wrong, and he certainly should avoid that type of behavior in any game from here on out.
When all is said and done, track record and intent are the two biggest contributing factors to a suspension, and in Hossa’s case, his actions don’t fit the bill.