In his first season as NHL disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan has diligently punished many players, making clear his intentions to clean up the league’s dirty play. To his credit, the “Shanahammer,” as he’s come to be known, has been very consistent with his rulings.
But, With 5:10 remaining in Tuesday night’s Flyers-Sharks contest, one of hockey’s most dangerous plays occurred as San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic sent Philadelphia’s Danny Briere head first into the boards. There was no penalty call on the play and in fact, the whistle was not blown as Briere’s situation was deemed nonthreatening.
Perpetrators of hits very similar to this one have received five-minute major boarding penalties and even game misconducts, not to mention a disciplinary call from Brendan Shanahan the following day. However, as Greg Wyshinkski of Yahoo! Sports confirmed earlier today, Vlasic will not have a hearing with Shanahan and the NHL. While it is not unheard of for hits that ultimately warrant suspensions to go unpenalized during play, Vlasic’s hit seems to be just what the NHL was talking about when they wrote the rule book:
41.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize the contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.
Hockey players are taught at a young age how to safely eliminate an opponent whose back is facing them. This lesson is based in, as one will commonly hear commentators say, “riding” the opponent into the boards. The reverse angle replay shows Vlasic clearly shoving Briere in the numbers, vaulting him head first into the corner boards.
It should be noted that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is by no means a dirty player and would be considered a first time offender by Brendan Shanahan. As such, had Vlasic been disciplined for his hit, the suspension would likely have been less than five games.
To play devil’s advocate, it can be said that on that same reverse angle, it appears as if Briere backs into the hit at the last second. The second paragraph of the boarding rule, does outline that the referee may side with the hitter if “the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check.”
That said, it is very common for players to lean back into the defenseman pursuing them. But does this maneuver justify Vlasic’s shove?
*Rule book information courtesy of NHL.com. Video courtesy of YouTube.