David Backes Suspended for Hit on Nielsen

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DoPS) has suspended Boston Bruins’ forward David Backes for three games for interference. The incident occurred in the dying seconds of the first period of Tuesday’s tilt between the Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. Backes initiated late contact up high on Red Wings’ forward Frans Nielsen and was assessed a two-minute roughing penalty on the play.

Below is the video that the NHL’s DoPS release to explain the play and the suspension:

NHL Department of Player Safety Transcript:

Tuesday night in Boston, Bruins’ forward David Backes was assessed a roughing penalty for this late, high hit on Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen which knocked him from the game. As the video shows, the puck is dumped into the Red Wings zone as Backes pursues on the forecheck.

The puck swings behind the net and Backes remains in pursuit of the puck. The Red Wings rim the puck up the wall where Nielsen is waiting to make a play. He quickly chips the puck towards center where it is intercepted by Bruins David Pastrnak. Well after the puck is gone, Backes delivers a late, high hit that makes substantial head contact with the head of Nielsen. This is interference.

Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while is opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.

Backes does not initiate this hit until after the puck is gone and contact is made outside of the allowable window for finishing a check. In fact, at the moment contact is made, Pastrnak has already gained possession for the Bruins and made his neck move with the puck.

In addition to the lateness of the check, what elevates this hit to merit supplemental discipline is the significant head contact that occurs and the force with which it is delivered.

While we acknowledge Backes’ attempt to contort his body in a way that might minimize the force of the hit, what results is a hit with substantial and forceful contact to Nielsen’s head.

Inconsistent Discipline by the NHL

While it’s clear that there was contact to the head of Nielsen in the play, there has been an uproar with the way the league has handled this situation. Just five days prior to the play at hand, Bruins’ young defender Charlie McAvoy was caught with a blatant and forceful check to the head by Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Patric Hornqvist.

David Backes Bruins
David Backes has been suspended by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a hit on Frans Nielsen, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hornqvist was neither penalized nor suspended or fined for his actions against McAvoy. While the league clearly got that call wrong, it’s important to remember that each case is identified on an individual basis. It’s fair to say that both players deserved a suspension, but it would be unfair to say that Backes doesn’t simply because Hornqvist didn’t.

With that in mind, a three-game suspension for a player who has had zero history of fines or suspensions in an 848-game career can be considered excessive all the same.

Backes has missed considerable time this season due to injury, including a surgery that he underwent on Nov. 2 after only making his season debut on Oct. 19. The Bruins will also be without Patrice Bergeron and McAvoy (for a separate incident than the Hornqvist hit) for the foreseeable future.