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Rome & Boychuk: Debating the NHL’s Punishment Policies

From what Mike Gillis said tonight, Mason Raymond has at least five months of recovery in front of him. Gillis as much as described the injury as a “broken back” in his press conference, and the horror of this whole situation will certainly go down in the history books as a terrible addendum when we recall this Stanley Cup Final, whoever wins it.

About the non-suspension of Johnny Boychuk, I have no objections to that ruling. (At least in an ideal world where common sense rules the day, anyway.) I don’t think Raymond’s terrible injury was either Boychuk’s intent, nor anything he could have forseen by following through on his hit into the boards. A one-in-a-million terrible result.

However, the hit was certainly worthy of an interference call—no puck anywhere around—and that’s where the NHL ends up looking ridiculous in this whole mess. Mike Murphy, widely lauded as “finally getting it right” with the harsh Rome suspension, now looks like a man who was flying by the seat of his pants when he made that call earlier in the series.

Dan Murphy of Sportsnet had a series of Tweets on Tuesday that said it well:

IMO NHL botched Rome susp with its explanation. 4 games for late hit? Not a chance. Give him 1-2 for a late hit to the head.

With Rome ruling, NHL has backed itself into a corner with Boychuk. Interference+severe injury=4 games for Rome but not Boychuk?

Bottom line the NHL made it up as it went along with Rome and now looks foolish for having no consistency.

Like me, Murphy is also clear that he does not feel Boychuk’s actions warranted any suspension. His problem, like mine, is with the consistency and the conflicting message the NHL is sending.

Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton was certainly a late hit, and while Rome might argue that he couldn’t have stopped, I think most would agree there appeared to be some time to ease off the contact. But let’s get real here: we’re talking about one very fast moment in time—an instant of decision—and Rome made the wrong one. That doesn’t make him evil, just human and wrong.  Not unlike Boychuk.

And let’s get real about something else: if Horton never sustained any sign of injury in that play—headshot or not—the absolute strongest penalty the NHL hands down is the 1-2 games that Murphy mentions. Which I think would have been the right call, either way.

Penalties and Injuries

Which brings me to my first point: I realize many will disagree, but personally, I’ve always believed injuries being linked to penalization is a completely foolish plan. You want to wait till someone’s seriously injured for a serious consequence to be handed down? Which basically means you want guys, who are playing a game for high stakes at 100 mph, to make a split second decision that figures out “If I do this illegal play, I bet I can do it to my team’s advantage without causing a devastating injury.”

Assuming Boychuk and Rome both had no intention to see their opponent end up in a hospital, then basically that’s the decision they need to make in those seconds. Both of them were willing to do an illegal play, clearly, but presumably hoping it worked out without their team—or themselves—being excessively punished for it.

But the game is simply too fast and too dangerous to factor “Will the guy get seriously hurt?” into the action.  It’s stupid to even expect it to be.

The decision they should have in that moment is simply “If I do this, no matter what the result, I get 2 minutes (or 2 games;  or 10 games, etc) knocked off my playing time.” Whether the opposing player might be injured isn’t a rational thing to sort out in that split-second moment. The thing is, the most inoffensive plays can hurt someone terribly, while the most dangerous plays can result in no injury. Till the next time.

In the Rome case, if Horton just gets taken out of the play without suffering that concussion, I’d still argue that Rome deserved a 1-2 game suspension. Bottom line: Rome should have been suspended based on his actions, not the results.  Same with Boychuk… which, as I said, I would normally have thought should equal NO suspension.

But then Mike Murphy showed up and stated that his decision on the Rome suspension was based on the play and the injury. Four games seemed harsh, but okay, fine. But then, should we not then assume that Boychuk’s infraction (even though it wasn’t called in the game) and the resulting devastating injury to Raymond, lead to the same penalty, upon NHL review?

Again, I don’t think that in a world where Mike Murphy didn’t already hand out the suspension he did to Rome, that Boychuk deserved anything more than a 2 minute penalty for interference, despite the horrific consequences of his play.  But we don’t live in that world anymore, because Murphy says he decides suspensions based on illegal plays + injuries.

Horton’s was apparently worthy of that rule.  But Mason Raymond and his fractured vertebrae? Somehow that didn’t satisfy the NHL’s stated guidelines.

Deciding Punishment

The NHL is right to penalize harshly, and I never said one single complaining word about the Rome suspension. Frankly, I could see there was logic in removing a player from the series that was going to draw a ton of negative attention. To me, it seemed like the NHL was remembering lessons learned with the Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi situation of years past—Moore not being penalized for his injurious hit to Markus Naslund in the previous game being what led to that horrible chain of events where Bertuzzi sought his revenge on Moore several days later, also fracturing his vertebrae and ending Moore’s NHL career. 

So while Rome being benched for the series seemed extreme, I could see how it reduced the likelihood of Bruins’ retaliation (not to mention, bad PR for the game) while maybe a setting a new standard for punishments.

But now you have to wonder: perhaps it was never about “getting it right” and being cautious and strong with punishment.  Maybe it was always just about appeasing the loudest critics, whose voices rose up dramatically with Horton’s injury.

It seems like the NHL’s police department has decided to pick and choose their bad guys, when it suits them and their PR.  For Mason Raymond, that sucks. For the Canucks, that sucks. And even for Boychuk, that sucks, because now he’ll be forever associated with this nonsense, despite a play that had a one-in-a-million horrible result.

The NHL needs to have standards. And while I understand that subjectivity is a necessary part of that, a 4-games vs zero-consequences suspension pattern isn’t a subjective response… it’s a joke.

Filed in: playoff hockey, vancouver canucks, | Canucks and Beyond | Permalink
  Tags: injuries, johnny+boychuk, mason+raymond, mike+murphy, nathan+horton, steve+moore, todd+bertuzzi

Comments

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no puck anywhere around

Really?  Watch the video again and tell me that the puck doesn’t pass RIGHT through their tangle of legs at the point of impact.

Posted by Garth on 06/15/11 at 02:40 AM ET

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The puck was in the area with the initial contact yes. Boychuk did not even attempt to go for it and had his stick between Raymond thighs before it even got close. The pick was half a rink away when Boychuk decided to crush Raymond into the boards backwards. The initial contact wasn’t bad though it may have been a penalty. There was a lot of time to decide to finish that check so hard into the boards. I agree that under normal rules this was two minutes at most. Precedent set with Rome suspension and reasons given by Murphy dictate otherwise.

Posted by Tikan on 06/15/11 at 03:48 AM ET

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If the criteria for suspension are late hits that cause injuries… this deserved SOMETHING. Indeed, at least for consistency.

Posted by Lindsay Dianne from Coquitlam, BC on 06/15/11 at 04:17 AM ET

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Boychuk decided to crush

Crush? Dunno what you were watching. That was not a ‘juicy’ hit.

In any event, the difference between the two hits is it’s not ever been legal to start lining a guy up half a second after he passed it and then clobber him half a second after that, which is what Rome did. Horton has no reason to expect to be hit that late and Rome has no reason to think he won’t be going to the box for hitting him. This play happens 10 times, I expect the other guy gets injured 8 because there’s no reason to think the hit’s coming. 5 years ago, I don’t think Rome gets 4 games, but I think he gets something.

It has, however, been legal for years that if the puck’s at a guy’s feet (which, right or wrong, counts as possession in the league’s eyes) when you make body contact near the boards, you can push him all the way to the boards even if the puck’s gone when you get there. For examples, see every game in the last 20 years that wasn’t played in the 2006 season. Boychuk has every reason to think this is permissible and Raymond has every reason to expect him to do this. It was just awkward body position and dumb luck that caused the injury; Boychuk didn’t even put a lot on the hit. This play happens all the time without incident; it’s just that these guys were tangled up all weird.

Posted by steviesteve on 06/15/11 at 04:24 AM ET

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You can’t tell me Boychuk could not see the awkward position and realize that finishing his check hard could cause serious damage. I can’t think of a hit that looks like this in the past but he surely had enough time to ease up. He was already going to go down from the initial contact. It was unnecessary to add the extra push and finish it out.

Posted by Tikan on 06/15/11 at 04:38 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

I just Hope Raymond gets to play again to his full capacity.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 06/15/11 at 10:15 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Tying up a guy’s stick, like what Boychuck started to do in that situation, is easily permissible.  Letting him follow that up with gaining a positional advantage to prevent him from moving his entire upper body while riding him into the boards two seconds later should be interference.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 06/15/11 at 10:24 AM ET

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The reason Boychuk was not penalized, nor given a suspension on this dirty hit is simply that Boston is owned by Bettman’s biggest supporter.  Why else whould the league not have suspended Chara for his cowardly intent to maim in Montreal?  There is a pattern to this and it paints a very ugly picture.  Hopefully, Brendan Shannahan can straighten things out.

Posted by DocF from Reidsville, NC on 06/15/11 at 11:21 AM ET

awould's avatar

You can’t tell me Boychuk could not see the awkward position and realize that finishing his check hard could cause serious damage.

I can tell you that. Nobody can know how Boychuk perceived the play but to think that a broken back crossed his mind during the play is just ridiculous. It’s understandable to want somebody to blame but this was a freak accident. Get off the high horse.

The entire premise of this post is misleading. There is absolutely no comparison between the extremely late hit of Rome and the goofy/awkward possibly-interference mini-check of Boychuk.

Posted by awould on 06/15/11 at 01:59 PM ET

Steve Strowbridge's avatar

The reason Boychuk was not penalized, nor given a suspension on this dirty hit is simply that Boston is owned by Bettman’s biggest supporter.

Matt Cooke costs Savard the better part of a season, no suspension.

Randy Jones costs Patrice Bergeron the better part of a season, 2 game suspension.

Ulf Samuelsson prematurely ended Cam Neelys career. Guess how many games he was suspended for?

If you want to actually look at the facts, you will see that Boston fans have a reason to be upset with the way the league disciplines its players also. My $0.02

Posted by Steve Strowbridge from St. John's, NL, CA on 06/15/11 at 01:59 PM ET

GZ Expat's avatar

I’m with Rdwings28…this play is behind us and I hope, first of all, that Raymond can resume a normal life…and then return to the ice and play hockey.  First things first, of course.

Posted by GZ Expat on 06/15/11 at 02:17 PM ET

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You can’t tell me Boychuk could not see the awkward position and realize that finishing his check hard could cause serious damage.

Boychuk is clearly dumfounded that Raymond is still down. Also, Vancouver’s trainer didn’t realize that a hit like that could have caused that much damage, either, since he made Raymond get up and walk off the ice with assistance instead of asking for a stretcher. Seems odd that Boychuk’s supposed to realize something a medical professional didn’t, either.

Also, he didn’t finish him with any force beyond inertia, which isn’t usually described as a hard check.


Letting him follow that up with gaining a positional advantage to prevent him from moving his entire upper body while riding him into the boards two seconds later should be interference.

Maybe, but it’s never been called that way, as far as I know, nor can I recall any other injuries on plays like this. If tying a guy up and drifting him to the boards is going to be a penalty going forward, there are going to be a lot of bruisers like, uh, Joni Pitkanen and Roman Hamrlik sitting in the box for long periods of time next year. Which is fine, but will change the game far more than the elimination of Kevlar to the Head, which is the infraction I’d personally prefer to remove from hockey.

Posted by steviesteve on 06/15/11 at 04:47 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Maybe, but it’s never been called that way, as far as I know

I’ve seen it called that way before.  I’d like to see it called that way every time.  Tying up a guy’s stick to prevent him from receiving a pass is good defense.  Following that up with tying up a guy’s body to keep him from getting into the play is interference. 

We don’t have to count frames to tell that this was two separate events within the same play. 

I do see lots of similar plays where a guy eliminates a stick near the boards and then both players tie up there, but this isn’t what happened.  They tie up in open ice and then Boychuk keeps him held down as he takes him to the boards.  The distance away from the boards of these two players compared to the distance of those similar plays combined with Boychuk not allowing Raymond to get back into a skating position makes this interference to me.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 06/15/11 at 05:02 PM ET

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Alanah McGinley has been blogging hockey since 2003 (with a notable gap in time through 2010, kicking it with new baby Lucy while living knee-deep in chaos while reading "parenting for complete idiots" during every spare minute) sharing opinions, rants and not-so-deep thoughts with anyone who will listen.

In addition to writing Canucks & Beyond and helping manage Kukla's Korner, Alanah was one of the founders and co-hosts of The Crazy Canucks Podcast. She has contributed pieces to FoxSports.com and the New York Times Slapshot blog, as well as other stray destinations in cyberspace.

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