There’s been debate on where exactly Matt Calvert’s stick hit the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Tom Kuhnhackl after Friday night’s game. Some observers have said the stick broke on Kuhnhackl’s upper arm, not his neck. Some have said that Kuhnhackl made the hit worse by leaning into Calvert’s subsequent hit when he doubled over after the cross-check.
None of these details is the important part of the hit, however. The important thing to remember is that this happened away from the puck, with thirty seconds left in the game and when the Blue Jackets were down by three goals. This wasn’t related to a play in any way; it was violence stemming from what looks like pure frustration. And rumor has it that Calvert won’t even be facing a suspension for the hit.
Yikes. Matt Calvert breaks his steak over Tom Kuhnhackl at the end of Game 2. pic.twitter.com/vjyO0wrr95
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) April 15, 2017
A Suspension-Worthy Offense
This hit happened just before the Columbus Blue Jackets fell 4-1 to the Penguins, leaving them 0-and-2 in their first two games of the series. The key thing to remember about the Calvert hit is that it can’t be excused as an attempt to make a play. The puck was nowhere near the hit. The game had already been decided. And, finally, Kuhnhackl clearly didn’t instigate the violence.
This was a hit unrelated to hockey; it was a sheer outburst of frustration in the form of violence. It’s not good for anyone in the league to allow that kind of pointless violence to exist unpunished. It doesn’t add anything to the game. It’s a dangerous precedent to set if the league allows players to make hits like this and still be allowed to show up and play the next game.
After the game, Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella said that he was “happy where we are as a team. Sucks it was 4-1.” He shouldn’t be happy where the Blue Jackets are as a team if it ends in hits like this. This kind of violence isn’t helping the Blue Jackets win games. The issues they’ve been having certainly don’t stem from a lack of aggression. If both Tortorella and the league are alright with the end-of-game hit, the Penguins, with their distinct lack of heavy hitters on the roster, are going to have to start to worry.
What Would No Suspension Mean?
Lots of hits with clear intent to injure go unpunished in the NHL. For instance, Sidney Crosby speared the Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan O’Reilly towards the end of the regular season. Spears are listed under attempts at deliberate injury to opponents under the official NHL rules, but Crosby not only didn’t receive a suspension; he didn’t even have to sit out a penalty. Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins then faced a suspension for the same offense a couple of weeks later. So, this isn’t to say that the Penguins never benefit from the NHL turning a blind eye to certain infractions of the rules.
This is some, um, interesting defence from Sidney Crosby. pic.twitter.com/6ouCNLEnAV
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 21, 2017
The Kuhnhackl hit is a special instance, however, specifically because it happened so blatantly after the game had concluded. Missing infractions that happen within a play is somewhat excusable. But not punishing what amounts to a simple act of violence, away from the puck and with no hope of changing the outcome of the game, would be a poor precedent to set. And for a league already accused of not caring enough about player safety, it would be a questionable move.
It would also be a worrying sign for the Penguins during the remainder of this playoff series. The Penguins are not a heavy-hitting team; the Blue Jackets, now down 2-0 in the series and desperate to pick up a win at home, most certainly are. Setting a precedent that permits players to let out frustration in violence that doesn’t benefit the game in any way would not be a good sign for the injury-prone Penguins.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.