In case you missed it last night, Micheal Haley of the San Jose Sharks punched Nashville Predators centre Calle Jarnkrok, an apparently unwilling combatant, in a scrum. The melee began following Jarnkrok’s illegal hit on Haley along the boards as the Sharks forward attempted to corral the puck and move it up ice. The so-called “sucker punch” was a hot topic of conversation after the game, with the Preds deploring it and the Sharks defending it.
Like most National Hockey League debates, this one is highly polarising, with little middle ground between “SUSPEND HALEY GOON HE DOESN’T BELONG IN LEAGUE BERTUZZI/MOORE OTHER INFLAMMATORY COMPARISONS” and “GOOD HOCKEY PLAY JARNKROK IS DIRTY EUROPEAN HE SHOULD STAND UP FOR HIMSELF IRRELEVANT REFERENCE TO BEING MALE”.
As fun as those debates are, let’s take a more reasoned approach, shall we?
Midway through the third period, with the Preds enjoying a 5-2 lead (they would go on to win 7-2), Jarnkrok intercepted Haley as the latter attempted to turn up ice after retrieving the puck in his own zone.
As you can see from the video, Jarnkrok comes in at a high rate of speed, and drives his forearm into the upper back of Haley, as the Sharks forward is vulnerable along the boards. As Jarnkrok follows through with the hit, his shoulder appears to make contact with Haley’s head, driving it into the glass.
Enraged, Haley gets to his feet and chases Jarnkrok around the ice, eventually getting a hold of him and dropping the Predator with a punch to the face. While Jarnkrok was penalised two minutes for the initial hit, Haley was given five and a game, and may well be looking at supplemental discipline.
Let’s start with Jarnkrok dumping Haley along the boards:
Is Haley eligible to be hit?
Yes, he has the puck.
Is he eligible to be hit like that?
No. Though his head is turned to look up ice, his body is facing the boards. He is in a vulnerable position. Hits from behind are illegal.
What about the head contact?
Looking at the video, Jarnkrok’s shoulder appears to make contact with Haley’s head, no doubt worsening the blow when Haley hit the wall. That said, if we are going by the NHL’s logic, the head does not appear to be the “primary point of contact”.
Could Jarnkrok have made a different play?
Yes. Jarnkrok was travelling at a much higher rate of speed than Haley and could have either physically engaged further up the boards, thereby giving himself an opportunity to deliver a clean check, or else just taken the puck from Haley, thereby avoiding this whole mess altogether.
After laying the hit, Jarnkrok turns to face Haley, who leaps back to his feet, looking for vengeance. As the other players on the ice pair off, Haley makes a beeline for Jarnkrok, trying, unsuccessfully to grab Jarnkrok once, before succeeding on his second attempt. He cocks back with his left hand and punches Jarnkrok square in the face, leaving Jarnkrok bloodied.
Was this a legal play?
No. Though fighting is technically illegal by NHL rules, scraps between two willing combatants are tolerated by the league, generally punished with nothing more than coincidental five-minute major penalties. Unless one of the two is deemed to have “instigated” the fight. But the Instigator Rule deserves a whole other article, so let’s stuff that cat back in the bag for now. Anyway. Jarnkrok did not appear to be a willing combatant for Haley, who has about 20 pounds on the Predators forward.
Was it a sucker punch?
No. I am sure that Jarnkrok would have had some idea he would be targeted for retribution, given the fact he had just laid a very illegal check. Additionally, Haley sheds his left glove as he gets up from the hit, which would have indicated he is about to clock somebody. As Haley, enraged and gloveless, chases Jarnkrok – who is facing him the entire time – around the ice, it is hard to not think that Jarnkrok should have been prepared for what was to come.
I don’t wish to come off as though I am blaming the victim. It’s just that, when I type “sucker punch” into Google, the definition comes back, “an unexpected punch or blow”. Merriam-Webster defines it as a verb, “to punch (a person) suddenly without warning and often without apparent provocation”. Can we honestly say that Haley sucker-punched Jarnkrok? No.
If the NHL were really serious about protecting their players, they would look at the initial play and consider supplemental discipline for Jarnkrok. But, they aren’t, so they won’t. Haley did not immediately seem to be injured on the play (READ: he got up, so it’s fine) and Jarnkrok was given two minutes for boarding, so I would imagine the NHL will have nothing more to say on the matter, despite it being a dangerous and unnecessary play.
As for Haley, it’s hard to say. He has reached triple digits in penalty minutes in most of his professional seasons and, a member of the New York Islanders, was a central part of the 2011 brawl between the Isles and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not that this should, technically, factor into the disciplinary process, but he does have a bit of a reputation, nonetheless.
That said, Haley was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for his actions last night, so, again using the NHL’s logic, he has already been punished. Recent comparables to this incident include Milan Lucic’s unprovoked sucker punch on Kevin Connauton – from behind, no less (Lucic got one game) and, more recently, Peter Holland’s strike on Ondrej Palat, responding to the latter’s hard hit (Holland received a fine).
In both of these cases, the victims had little to no inkling they were about to be clocked. Jarnkrok certainly should have.
Michael Haley should be suspended. You can’t just go around punching people in the face because they wronged you, no matter how justified you might be. Jarnkrok clearly did not want to defend his actions via fisticuffs, so Haley should have just let the hockey world take what they would from this unwillingness to fight. Of course, I am saying this in the comfort of my home, not just after having my head driven into the glass on an illegal hit from behind.
If I were the NHL, I’d keep it light. One or two games; three at the most. Of course, I am not the NHL. Given the two – worse – comparables above, I would be surprised if Haley receives anything more than a fine – if anything at all.
I would also consider suspending Jarnkrok for the original hit. Again though, I am not the NHL. Jarnkrok was penalised on the play and Haley got up immediately, so Jarnkrok will probably get nothing.
Regardless, there is something strangely satisfying about this whole spectacle; something that ignites some primal fire deep within all of us. The need to right a wrong, the desire for revenge, the satisfaction of taking matters into one’s own hands… Of course, this fire for justice is quickly tempered (in most of us) by the unquestionable benefits of rules and regulations. But if the “let the players police themselves” lobby was struggling for ammunition, Michael Haley has just provided them the mother lode.
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.