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Murray Musings

By Tom Murray,

A few thoughts in the wake of what was the major topic of discussion early this week—the hit on Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews by Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Predictably, there were opposing reactions to the hit, all of which can be summed up by the opinions of two well-known hockey pundits.

Greg Wyshynski, aka “Puck Daddy” at yahoo.com, delivered an impassioned defense:

“It was a hellacious check by one of the NHL’s best hitters,” he wrote, “injuring one of the NHL’s best players. Was it headhunting? No. Was it a defender taking liberties with an opponent? No, unless we’ve redefined any hard check in the game as ‘borderline.’”

An interesting take, and one that completely avoided the fact that we’re not talking about just any hardnosed player who delivered the hit, but Orpik, a player whose shady reputation precedes him, a point that was thoroughly covered by Mike Milbury on NBCSN after the game.

“This is a guy that has a history and it’s documented, of hurting people,” Milbury said of Orpik, “and I think he intends to. I think he sees people who are vulnerable and never gives them a chance to lay off.”

Milbury then enumerated a slew of players who’ve been on the receiving end of Orpik’s handiwork over the years, among them: Jeff Skinner (“knocked unconscious”), Eric Cole (“he broke his neck”) and the knee-on-knee incident with the Rangers Derek Stepan two years ago that prompted John Tortorella’s anti-Penguins rant (“one of the most arrogant organizations in the league”) that cost him a $20,000 fine: “The knee is out,” Milbury said as he analyzed a replay of the hit, “middle of the ice, running straight ahead, which he does with alarming frequency.”

Both Wyshynski and Milbury also referenced the Orpik hit on Loui Eriksson of the Bruins last December, which precipitated the slew-foot attack on Orpik by Shawn Thornton, for which Thornton received a 15-game suspension.

“A clean hit,” claimed the Puck Daddy.

“A dirty hit,” proclaimed Milbury.

And never the twain shall meet.

But here’s the thing:

While there’s absolutely no excuse for Thornton’s attack on Orpik, it was prompted in large part by the fact that the Penguins’ defenseman is as well known for refusing to drop his gloves as he is for seeming to prey on opponents in vulnerable positions.

"You have a guy who operates on a predatory level, that's Brooks Orpik, but he refuses to fight,” Milbury said. “He refuses to face the music when it comes to that and the physicality. He makes a conscious choice.”

Which brings us to Josh Yohe, a writer who covers the Penguins for Trib Total Media. During the 2011-12 season he took a survey of 15 Penguins players, Sidney Crosby included, asking if they thought fighting should be banned. 14 said no. Orpik was the only one to say yes.

I contacted Yohe via email late Monday afternoon and asked him about his survey and Orpik’s response.

“His reasoning,” Yohe responded via email, “was based on the death of several enforcers in the summer of 2011.” (Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all died within four months of each other that year.)

Yohe also added the fact that Orpik didn’t want to risk becoming a “vegetable” as the result of fighting.

So to sum it all up, Orpik is apparently just fine with having it both ways: Refusing to drop the gloves while cruising around the ice to his heart’s content, picking his spots, delivering hits that are borderline at a minimum and oftentimes simply cheap and dirty, then turtling or skating away when challenged for his actions because of his fear of sustaining a long-term brain injury.

It’s a maddening double standard. And with the start of the playoffs looming, just  wondering how the rest of the boys in the room feel about it. Especially the two who wear #’s 87 and 71. (Note to Josh Yohe: Perhaps another survey of the Penguins is in order?)

Because when it comes time to receive a message that time of year, those are the top two guys who are going to bear the brunt of it—not the teammate who continues to deliver lousy hits and then run from the consequences.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: brooks+orpik, jonathon+toews, tom+murray

Comments

phillyd's avatar

The thing is, if you read the Boarding rule, it talks about delivering a violent hit to a defenseless opponent. In this case, everyone keeps using the word “vulnerable”. If, as seems to be the case, that there is a consensus the hit was to a vulnerable opponent, it’s a penalty and needs to be called as such and whatever appropriate supplemental discipline should occur. I agree, he goes out of his way to hit an opponent who is vulnerable. Someone in the other article on the hit brought up Kronwall. The difference is I don’t see many, from my limited viewing of Red Wings’ games, of Kronwall hits into the boards, they’re mostly in open ice or straight on so the player lands on the ice, not against the boards. The player is usually carrying the puck, not reaching or looking to receive it. In those two cases, the player is vulnerable or defenseless and a hit, the way the rules are written, cannot be delivered. The purpose of that is to force the hitter to actually make a play on the puck instead of just trying to lay somebody out and potentially injuring them. Orpik is not the only one who does this so I guess my beef would not solely lie with him but would also be with the league for continuing to allow these types of hits to go unpunished either through penalties or other means. Those are my thoughts on the topic.

Posted by phillyd from Southern New Jersey on 04/01/14 at 10:34 AM ET

TreKronor's avatar

I still maintain Toews has his head down, and Orpik makes the hit.  If Toews has his head up, he turns and avoids the hit, or makes it not as brutal. 

Posted by TreKronor on 04/01/14 at 10:42 AM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

An interesting take, and one that completely avoided the fact that we’re not talking about just any hardnosed player who delivered the hit, but Orpik, a player whose shady reputation precedes him…

If a hit is a clean hit, it doesn’t matter who delivers it. There’s no doubt that Orpik can be an ass, and he should get severe penalties for every dirty hit he makes (because of that past history).

But this was not a dirty hit. It was a shouldar on shoulder hit on a guy who wasn’t paying attention. If players could avoid being hit simply by putting themselves in vulnerable positions, you might as well taking hitting out of the game altogether.

The only reason this is such a “big deal” is because the whiny Hawks and the homer writers are doing what they do best – whining. Man up. Get your fricking head up. And play hockey. Save the whining for your wives. I’m sure they’re used to it by now.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 04/01/14 at 11:15 AM ET

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Posted by phillyd from Southern New Jersey on 04/01/14 at 11:34 AM ET

What your argument relies on is the idea of vulnerability. Every player skating with his head down looking at the ice is vulnerable. If a guy is carrying the puck and just looks downward, should the league protect this player because he refuses to skate with his head up? Should a player, when determining whether to deliver a hit, be required to determine if the player is vulnerable because his head is down?

The fact is, players are going to get hit in vulnerable positions. But the Kronwall argument really loses steam when you take the boards out of play. Boarding is called only when the player is hit from behind into the boards. So within those constraints, any hit delivered by Kronwall that doesn’t involve a player getting hit from behind into the boards is not governed by the Boarding rule.

Boarding penalties are constrained by those factors. So, when determining vulnerability, it has to consider whether the player was in a vulnerable position near the boards when a hit was delivered that drove the player into the boards.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/01/14 at 11:40 AM ET

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It was NOT shoulder on shoulder. It was torso to shoulder. Orpik is taller than Toews and Toews was crouched down. But I’m not saying it was a blow to the head either. I think the actual CONTACT was alright. Toews was not paying attention and was vulnerable and Orpik hit him hard into the boards. As he does.

I think Orpik was leaving his feet before initiating contact. I think it should have been charging. I saw two gifs of the hit. One was from right in front of the hit and I thought it was obvious that Orpik’s body was rising into the hit. His left foot was clearly off the ice as he brought it up for increased momentum as he was initiating contact. I don’t believe his right foot came off the ice as a result of the hit. I think he launched himself pure and simple and he does have a history of dirty/borderline hits.

Posted by teldar on 04/01/14 at 11:40 AM ET

phillyd's avatar

Boarding is called only when the player is hit from behind into the boards. So within those constraints, any hit delivered by Kronwall that doesn’t involve a player getting hit from behind into the boards is not governed by the Boarding rule.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/01/14 at 12:40 PM ET

Actually, you are flat out wrong on that. Here’s the quote from Rule 41: 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 wheter 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.

Somebody could be attempting to play the puck in their feet, looking down, and be checked violently into the boards and it would be a penalty according to the rule because the hitter hit a defenseless or vulnerable player. The problem is the 2nd paragraph is used way too much but the purpose of the rule is to play the puck, because, you know, that’s actually what the game is about, controlling the puck to create scoring.

Posted by phillyd from Southern New Jersey on 04/01/14 at 11:57 AM ET

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Well, put it this way - the way the rule is called is 99.9% of the time hit from behind, face-first into the boards.

Regarding Kronwall’s hits, as you admit, he is an open-ice hitter. Rarely does he put someone into the boards.

Part of the problem with the “vulnerability” thing is the speed of the game. The decision-making process may not be sufficiently long enough to determine whether a guy has been looking in his feet for the puck for too long before applying the hit (i.e., “did the player immediately prior to or simultaneously change his position to become more vulnerable?”). How is that quantified? Like I said above, if there is a player who simply skates with his head down 95% of the time he has the puck, should that player be considered permanently vulnerable and unable to be hit?

It is my expectation that if a player is not facing the boards and searching for the puck in his feet and takes a hit from the front that wasn’t charging, that boarding wouldn’t be called. Even if the rule could be applied the way you suggest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen boarding called when the player didn’t go face-first (or within 90 degrees of face-first) into the boards.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/01/14 at 12:08 PM ET

phillyd's avatar

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/01/14 at 01:08 PM ET

And I agree with everything you said. It’s the “violently” part that should cause hit’s from the side or front to actually also be called boarding, not just from behind like we see. A simple hit on someone, shoulder to shoulder, where the person is trying to get around a player when their head down isn’t a board but if a player is racing to a puck and their head is down reaching for it and you propel them off the boards to the effect they’re sprawled on the ice, I would argue that that is indeed a board. Remember, in this hit that no one seems to want to bring up, is that Toews wasn’t against the boards, he was a foot, maybe two, off of it.

Posted by phillyd from Southern New Jersey on 04/01/14 at 12:18 PM ET

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Interesting reading Milbury’s list. He’s right. Good that someone doesn’t have a short memory.
Orpik took out Johann Franzen a few years ago on a dirty hit. Might have been in an exhibition game. I can’t remember the circumstances, although Franzen was injured. Does anyone out there remember?

 

Posted by manitobaredwingfan on 04/01/14 at 12:19 PM ET

Hootinani's avatar

Cant stand Orpik (or Toews for that matter) but It was a good hit.  If this wasnt Toews or some other star player, this conversation wouldnt be happening, especially among the media.

Hockey is a contact sport and players are going to get injured, even good ones, in the normal course of play.  It doesnt always have to be a controversy.  But controversy drives traffic to sites, so here we are.

Posted by Hootinani on 04/01/14 at 12:26 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

It was NOT shoulder on shoulder. It was torso to shoulder. Orpik is taller than Toews and Toews was crouched down.

Posted by teldar

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. As I see it in the video Paul posted, it seems pretty clear that Toes’ shoulder is the point of imapct at both the :33 second mark and the :42 second mark. If it wasn’t, how did his shoulder get injured?

...in determining wheter 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.

If Toes wants to skate around with his head down when he knows Orpik is on the ice, he’s an idiot. The same goes for guys skating up the left side of the ice with their head down when they know Kronwall is on the ice. In those situations, they knowing put themselves in a vulnerable position to be crushed by a legal hit.

As Mickey always says, you better know who’s on the ice everytime you’re out there. If you’re not aware, you have no one to blame but yourself when you get nailed by a legal hit.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 04/01/14 at 12:54 PM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

Hockey is a contact sport and players are going to get injured, even good ones, in the normal course of play.  It doesnt always have to be a controversy.  But controversy drives traffic to sites, so here we are.

Sadly this is the most true thing ever said.

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 04/01/14 at 12:58 PM ET

perfection's avatar

If players could avoid being hit simply by putting themselves in vulnerable positions, you might as well taking hitting out of the game altogether.

but this has now become common place. players intentionally turn their backs all the time with the assumption that the opposition will not hit them from behind as a way of avoiding being hit. of course that assumption, while usually correct, has a high risk as it generally results in a stretcher when the opposition player finishes their check anyway.

this idea of “vulnerability” is definitely dicey. I think Kronwall is actually a better case study because he doesn’t have quite the stigma that Orpik does. He definitely used to launch into his checks here and there but has actually done a great job of getting that out of his game. Kronwall’s checks are by the book and the league has publicly defended them remaining in the game for a few years now.

with all of that said, the reason every guy who gets “kronwalled” wants to fight Kronwall isn’t because they’re embarrassed or because they believe people should have to fight when they make clean hits, it’s because “kronwalling” is entirely based on player vulnerability. he actually makes a deceptive move backward SO the other player will put their head down and assume they’re safe and then he suddenly takes advantage of their vulnerable position and creams them. He doesn’t hit them into the boards and what’s more, these hits are generally at the offensive blue line and lead to turnovers, so they are very valid “hockey plays” that I don’t think are intended to injure people. But they most definitely are predatorial and by design, are intended to take advantage of vulnerability.

But again, the league has said explicitly that this hit should remain in the game. Kronwall is way too valuable to the team to fight people over some unwritten code and I definitely see nothing “dishonerable” about him always refusing. Why should he subject himself and his team to that risk? So Milbury and Don Cherry like him more? Screw that. We’ve have enough injuries and so has Kronwall in his career. If the league bans that hit, he’d stop doing it. But they haven’t, so he hasn’t.

I actually wonder why attempting to start a fight after a CLEAN hit isn’t an automatic unsportsmanlike penalty? I think it should be. 

 

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 04/01/14 at 01:11 PM ET

Avatar

...If, as seems to be the case, that there is a consensus the hit was to a vulnerable opponent, it’s a penalty….
.... I agree, he goes out of his way to hit an opponent who is vulnerable.

I am not saying you are right or wrong about the Orpik hit (because who really cares in the end anyway) but i do find it funny how you argue your case.  You basically make an assumption - that everyone agrees Toews was vulnerable.  And then you go on and agree with the group of people you assumed and their assumption.

 

 

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/01/14 at 02:00 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

It’s a maddening double standard.

No it isn’t.  It’s maddening to a person who holds the standard that you have to fight after delivering a check that somebody doesn’t like.

That’s not Orpik’s standard.

You’d have to ask him yourself for confirmation on this, but it’s certainly easy to infer that Orpik’s standard is that if he crosses a line, the league should punish him for doing so.

The players are not arbiters of fairness and the mob that is the fans aren’t capable of meting out a fair decision on things like this. Orpik delivers a hit that somebody doesn’t like and he has to subject himself to CTE Roulette because that somehow solves the issue?

The guy got jumped and pulled off the ice on a stretcher and that didn’t make him stop hitting people. You know why? Because Shawn Thornton isn’t the person to whom Brooks Orpik should have to answer if he does something outside the rules of the game.

Say what you will about their ability to actually live up to the standard, but the league is the authority to whom Orpik has to answer. If they’re not calling, he doesn’t have to pick up anywhere else. You can try the bully antic of going after Orpik’s teammates to try to get them to put pressure on him to play a different way, but any line you cross while doing so should subject you to having to answer to the league.

This finger-wagging at Orpik about how he’s endangering Crosby and Malkin is the real double-standard here, not Orpik’s refusal to abide by a stupid extralegal code. This horrid tacit approval of such behaviors as though they’re so widely accepted that you can state it as a fact as though they’re uncontrollable is the problem.

Maybe you should muse some more about how teams employ guys whose sole purpose seems to be threatening the game’s best players if the other team refuses to let them get away with putting themselves in bad positions on the ice.

One of these things is a chickenshit way to act and, brother, it sure as heck isn’t the one where the guy chooses not to throw down with a designated goon.

 

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/01/14 at 02:52 PM ET

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No one even challenged Orpik.  I realize that he wouldn’t have fought but what is Milbury’s point?

If Shawn Thorton or some other Neaderthal that Milbury appoves of hit Toews, we wouldn’t be talking about this.  The problem is that the “old school” thugs don’t approve of Orpik and his ilk.

The real question is, should someone have to fight after a clean check?

BTW - Didn’t Milbury “attack” (if he can sensationalize, so can I) a 9 year old boy at his childs hockey game?  Why is this guy even on a major TV network?  Who made him arbitor of right and wrong?

Posted by Jack McFly on 04/01/14 at 03:09 PM ET

alwaysaurie's avatar

One thing I’d like to add about the “Kronwalling.” By-the-bye, thanks for pointing out how Kornwall eliminated the “launch” portion of his hit, perfection from LaLaLand.

When you hit a player in open ice the hitter and the hittee receive a nearly identical collision. It hurts Kronwall “almost” as much as it hurts his target(since Kronwall is braced for contact and his target isn’t is why the “almost” is there), and this means that there is a self-limiting of the frequency with which Niklas can do this.

When you hit a player right off of the boards the hittee is hit twice(body-on-body & body-on-boards) while the hitter has his collision cushioned by the squishy human between him and the boards. A player making this hit can make this hit all-day long, every day. source:Physics

Posted by alwaysaurie on 04/01/14 at 03:18 PM ET

Paul's avatar

Kerry Fraser of TSN weighs in,

Referees should be directed to impose a charging penalty in every case when a player’s skates leave the ice in the act of delivering a body check, period. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the end game; just a medical scientist!

more

Posted by Paul from Motown Area on 04/01/14 at 03:31 PM ET

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Orpik doesn’t just deliver “a check that somebody doesn’t like.” If he did so, cleanly and consistently, no one would have a problem with him, nor would they attack him for choosing not to fight. The double standard absolutely IS applicable because of Orpik’s long history of dubious or dirty hits, coupled with his refusal to defend himself. (Remember Kaleta from Buffalo? Same deal. And he’s no longer in the league).

As for the “horrors of the code,” sorry, but that’s the way it is. If Orpik cleaned up his act, as others have, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

But he’s not going to. And why should be? As I said in a previous column, do we have to wait for someone to not get up from a dirty hit before the “Department of Player Safety” starts living up to its name?

Posted by Tom Murray from Birmingham, MI on 04/01/14 at 07:06 PM ET

Avatar

Tom, are saying if Orpik is willing to fight, it’s okay to crush Toews.  If not willing to fight, he must ease up on Toews??

Posted by Jack McFly on 04/01/14 at 08:16 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

As for the “horrors of the code,” sorry, but that’s the way it is. If Orpik cleaned up his act, as others have, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Yeah, this is the real double-standard at play here. Orpik can’t make this hit against Toews (which is a completely ok hit) because he somehow owes it to HIS OWN TEAMMATES to fight some goofball who isn’t good at hockey, but has a job enforcing rules that are too stupid to be written.

If he doesn’t, then it’s Orpik endangering Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin because “that’s that way it is.”

do we have to wait for someone to not get up from a dirty hit before the “Department of Player Safety” starts living up to its name?

Do we have to wait for somebody to get carted off the ice on a stretcher before we eliminate this stupid code?

If you’ve got a problem with the league not taking the appropriate actions to punish and prevent dirty plays, then you and I are in complete agreement. Where we differ apparently is the thought that it’s not only ok, but EXPECTED that the players should be muddying the waters with their own code in an attempt to mete out their own punishments/preventative measures (which don’t deter dirty play one bit and in fact likely help proliferate the problem it’s designed to combat)... one which essentially threatens injury risk in return for injury risk.

If that’s how you feel, fine, but I think it disqualifies you from any disingenuous hand-wringing about what is and isn’t a consideration of “player safety.”

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 04/01/14 at 08:22 PM ET

Avatar

All I’m saying is that Orpik is notorious for not just hitting opponents, but trying to hurt them. His track record speaks for itself. And anyone who plays like that has no business hiding behind the shield of pacifism. And why? Apparently because he’s concerned about getting his brain scrambled in a fight. But it’s OK for him to scramble someone’s brains with a dirty hit!!  BTW, NOT talking about Toews hit specifically here, but pick any of the many others on Brooksie’s long resume.

Posted by Tom Murray from Birmingham, MI on 04/01/14 at 08:49 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

Orpik doesn’t just deliver “a check that somebody doesn’t like.” If he did so, cleanly and consistently, no one would have a problem with him..

Posted by Tom Murray from Birmingham, MI.

So your argument is that he should be punished for a clean hit because he doesn’t consistently deliver clean hits?

Each hit is a separate and distinct hit. And each one has to be evaluated on its individual merit.

The only time Orpik’s history of delivering illegal hits should come into play is when he delivers another illegal hit. This was a completely legal hit. What Orpik has done in the past has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on how his hit on Toes should be viewed.

Personally, I think Orpik is just as big a prick as Toes is. But that has no more bearing on evaluating this hit than Orpik’s past history has. Look at what actually happened. That’s all that matters here.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 04/01/14 at 10:56 PM ET

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