The talk surrounding hockey safety will be at the forefront again – at least for a couple of days – after the game between Tampa Bay and Toronto saw Paul Ranger taken off the ice on a stretcher. The injury was suffered after a questionable hit by Lightning forward Alex Killorn with 4.1 seconds left in the first period.
Now, the hit will surely be called questionable by many because there’s differing opinions regarding the play. Some say Ranger turned – which can certainly be argued – while others say that Killorn’s hit was undoubtably avoidable.
Either way, it’s a play that will be looked at over and over again. Here, we’ll take a closer look at Killorn’s hit as well as Ranger’s change in direction that left the big defenseman vulnerable and defenceless.
Gleason said Ranger was in "tough spot" on Killorn hit, "little extra bump and that’s all it takes. It almost looks harmless but it’s not."
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) March 20, 2014
In the replay, it’s obvious that Ranger took a glance over his shoulder at the clock. It’s also clear that he shifted his direction. While his intention was to fool the oncoming Lightning forechecker, he changed directions just as Killorn made the commitment to lay the check.
Killorn can't really avoid contact there once Ranger turns, but he can avoid driving through the hit. Ugly play.
— Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) March 19, 2014
The ‘Bear Hug’ Debate
However, this is where the argument becomes more debatable and it depends on where you stand on player safety. These are the kind of hits that have caused numerous injuries over the years. They’re the hits that inspired Brian Burke’s rant on ‘the bear hug’ along the boards.
“The most flagellant situations for me is one where a forward makes a hard pivot and comes right back into the track of the defenseman,” said Burke, the former Maple Leafs general manager, in an article by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski. He’s gotta finish that hit and when he does sometimes that player is propelled like a billiard ball. Give the defenseman the chance to go in there with him [and] avoid a potentially catastrophic injury.”
But regardless of the process, a solution needs to be found. Martin Biron said on TSN during the intermission that the player making the hit – in this case Killorn – shouldn’t need to make a game changing hit with under five seconds left in the game.
Irresponsible play by Killorn. Brutal hit on Ranger.
— Jason Davidson (@JasonD79) March 19, 2014
Bone Crushing Hit Versus Simple Physical Play
In fact, the players seem to come in harder and with more force. Is there no penalty anymore for charging – taking those three or four strides before making a hit? A player has to be ready to let up if their prey is in a vulnerable position – whether it’s their fault or not.
So there’s two schools of thought surrounding plays like the Killorn-Ranger incident. First, players have to refrain from putting themselves in such vulnerable positions. But the other player, the hitter, has to anticipate a turn or a change in the direction.
So is it a play that could see Killorn suspended? The fact is, Ranger was taken to hospital with an injury. The presence of a stretcher certainly doesn’t help. And while Killorn hit him in a vulnerable position some would question if there was any fault on the play. But looking at similar plays with similar outcomes, the Department of Player Safety could come down on the Lightning forward.
UPDATE: Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn will not face supplemental discipline for his hit on Toronto’s Paul Ranger.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.