Jim Neveau, Blackhawks Correspondent
After a game that saw Brian Campbell get absolutely demolished by Alex Ovechkin, the Blackhawks are once again at the center of a controversial hit.
In the second period of a game with big implications for both squads, the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks were tied at one piece early in the second period. On a play behind the Chicago goal, Brent Seabrook got a piece of Anaheim forward Corey Perry and sent him sprawling into the boards. Seeing this happen, James Wisniewski decided that it would be a good time to get revenge on his former teammate:
To be fair here, the hit on Perry looked really bad as it happened in live action. It looked like Seabrook hit a defenseless Perry headfirst into the boards and sent him sprawling. That being said, when you slow that play down, it’s pretty apparent that Perry loses a bit of an edge, and Seabrook is already lining up the hit, so the result looked worse than it actually was. It was a clean hit that looked dirty, to be pithy.
Getting back to the hit by Wisniewski, it boils down to this: James is irritated that his teammate has just been sent sprawling by a hit, and decides to line up Seabrook for a hit. This is all well and good (and within the code of conduct amongst NHL players), but while the intention may have been good, the end result was anything but.
After banging his head into the boards, Seabrook did stay on the Chicago bench for a little while, but was eventually removed from the game. There is no word yet on his condition, and with the Blackhawks scheduled to play in Los Angeles tomorrow night, it remains a strong possibility that the Hawks will have to recall a forward (likely Jake Dowell or Jack Skille) to replace Dustin Byfuglien as he gets shifted to the blue line to replace Seabrook.
Before we get back to whether the hit should result in a suspension, we first need to call out Ducks color man Brian Hayward for his comments while watching the replay of the hit. He accused Seabrook of “selling it”, and while a little bit of homerism is to be expected from a team’s announcing crew, his assessment that Seabrook was somehow faking that he had been knocked back to the 20th century is laughable.
Speaking of laughable, Paul Devorski and Ian Walsh ought to be ashamed of themselves for the call leveled out on this hit. On a play where Wisniewski clearly skated all the way from the blue line to behind the net to hit a player who didn’t have the puck at any point during the play, all he got was a two minute charging penalty. That was it. No five minute major for boarding. No game misconduct for intent to injure. No nothing. If anything, Wisniewski should have also been issued a penalty for interference, considering that Seabrook never possessed the puck after hitting Perry.
If the NHL is ever to be taken seriously (or at least not treated like a niche sport) then inconsistent officiating of the type that we saw this evening has to be eliminated.
Finally, however, we come back to the man of the hour. Mr. Wisniewski not only proved himself to possess extremely poor judgment, but he also did several things on this check that could easily be considered suspension worthy offenses by Colin Campbell.
For starters, there was the malicious nature of the play. Wisniewski clearly sought out Seabrook as punishment for his hit on Perry, and clearly tried to hit Brent in the head on the play. With Seabrook that close to the boards, he not only took the blow to the front of his body, but also to the back of his head when it nailed the glass. That jarring of the head usually results in concussions, and from the look on Seabrook’s face after the play (and the fact he didn’t return to the game), that’s very well what may have happened.
The maliciousness of the play certainly can be termed “intent to injure”, and while the officials on the ice may not have seen it that way through their incorrectly prescriptioned contact lenses, Campbell has the benefit of seeing the play unfold on replay when he decides whether or not to dish out punishment.
Another element of the hit was the fact that it appeared Wisniewski left the ice right before impact. Normally, on plays like this the player only leaves the ice on the follow through of the check, but in this instance, it certainly looks like Wisniewski jumped into Seabrook and drilled him into the boards, another no-no when it comes to deciding discipline. The two minute charging penalty that was called hardly did justice to how violent the collision was. With that much speed and momentum carrying him at Seabrook, leaving his feet simply maximized the damage when Wiz collided with Brent’s head.
Finally, there is the matter of the comments that some Anaheim players, including Wisniewski, made after the game that gives Campbell one more reason to punish the defenseman. While it isn’t out of the ordinary for a player to defend himself against charges of a dirty play, the lengths that several members of the Ducks went to defend the hit are absolutely absurd.
“He’s one of my really close friends”, Wisniewski said of Seabrook. “You don’t like to see that. I thought he had the puck so I finished my check. I was already down there, so I pinched in and that’s what happened.”
Having already stated that Seabrook never possessed the puck after hitting Perry, it’s probably better just to move on to the next quote:
“I didn’t do anything wrong. The result of what happened isn’t good, but there wasn’t anything wrong that I did.”
Leave out the fact that you left the ice, intended to drive Seabrook through the glass and into the lap of the good fans of Anaheim (they really are passionate. That wasn’t sarcasm), and drilled him in the head, and yeah, it could be surmised that you didn’t do anything wrong.
The lack of remorse that Wisniewski is feeling is appalling. If Seabrook were truly one of his close friends, there is no way that he would intentionally try to hurt him. The fact that he did simply drives home the point that he was gunning for a headshot to knock Seabrook out of the game, and that he needs to be suspended.
Todd Marchant had another nugget of wisdom to add to the proceedings when he said “Seabrook saw him coming, and he’s the one that hits Pears in the head. James came in and stood up for his teammates. I hate to say it, but that’s the way it was years ago.”
Just because a dirty play would have happened years ago doesn’t mean it was right then, and it certainly isn’t right now. Marchant’s “I walked uphill both ways to school in the snow” logic in this situation is entirely insensitive, and also displays a stunning lack of common sense.
In addition, why on Earth did Wisniewski have to defend Perry’s honor? The last time I checked, Perry is one of the most physical forwards in the game, and routinely racks up penalty minutes like Tiger Woods racks up mistresses. He is more than capable of enacting his own physical revenge later on, and likely wouldn’t result to a complete cheap shot to do it.
Finally, there was respected Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, who said of his defenseman after the game “Wisniewski had two fights tonight. He probably was the first star in our mind. This was probably his best game as a Duck.”
It’s refreshing to know that a player nearly decapitates another player, and that it was his best game as a Duck. Not sure whether we should be mocking James for his poor play if this was truly his best game in over a season as a Duck, or if we should be checking Carlyle into a psych ward for an evaluation after a statement like that.
For people who think the NHL is nothing but legalized street fighting, and that violence is the only reason guys suit up and people show up to watch, Carlyle’s logic must reinforce their opinions. Giving a guy top honors because he got into two fights and knocked another player out of the game with a dirty check reeks of asinine detachment from reality, and Carlyle needs to measure his words more carefully before he reinforces more negative stereotypes with his out of touch statements.
Now, we have come to the moment of truth. Surely you have noted by the tone of this article that I believe that Wisniewski should be suspended. Some in the Blackhawks fanbase are insistent that Wisniewski should be suspended for 10 games, or for the rest of the season, but there really isn’t a lot to back up either of those suspension lengths. Instead, we’ll dish out the suspension length based on the variables listed above:
-For leaving his feet on the check, Wisniewski should get a one game suspension.
-For willfully trying to injure another player, Wisniewski should get two games tacked onto his suspension.
-When the fact he’s already been suspended this season for a hit on Shane Doan is factored in, that should tack on another game.
-Finally, for the complete lack of respect and common sense illustrated by Wisniewski after the game, and the image that it portrays of the NHL as a whole, there should be one more game tacked onto the suspension.
Added together, it is my opinion that Wisniewski should be suspended for five games for his reckless hit on Brent Seabrook. He can claim all he wants that the hit was clean and that he wants to smooch all over Brent’s face, but when push comes to shove, the fact of the matter is that it was a dirty hit by a guy looking to make a statement.
His vile attempt to injure Seabrook should not go unpunished by the NHL, and if the owners and GMs are serious about trying to clean up the game, then this would be an excellent place to start.
If Wisniewski somehow avoids suspension for this hit, Colin Campbell needs to do the hockey world a favor and turn in his rulebook to Gary Bettman’s desk. It would be the ultimate dereliction of duty if Campbell lets Wisniewski skate unscathed from this incident, and it would be yet another black eye for a sport that can’t seem to lift itself off the canvas.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.