Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 11/16/11 at 01:31 PM ET
Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic’s hit on Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller on November 12th, and its subsequent handling by the NHL, elicited strong feelings from fans and pundits, not just in Boston and Buffalo, but around the league.
To recap, during the first period of said game, Lucic was heading into the Sabres zone on a partial breakaway when he lost control of the puck. Miller raced out of his net and shot the puck harmlessly away toward the boards, but Lucic barrelled into Miller, sending the Sabres netminder sprawling, his mask flying off his head.
In the ensuing scrum, Lucic was barely challenged by any of the Sabres on the ice. He was assessed a two-minute charging penalty, and skated away smirking to the penalty box.
Miller stayed in the game until the end of the second period, after which he was taken out of the game with what was later reported to be concussion-like symptoms. Lucic was unapologetic following the game, saying he was merely trying to play the puck and couldn’t avoid Miller because he didn’t see the Buffalo goalie until the last second.
Lucic had a meeting with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on November 14th, after which Shanahan decided not to suspend or fine the Bruins winger.
“The minor penalty called on the ice (charging) was the correct call”, said Shanahan. “And, while it’s unfortunate that Miller was hurt, I saw nothing egregious about this hit which would elevate it to supplementary discipline”.
In noting the penalty assessed on the player, Shanahan was referring to NHL Rule 69.4 “Contact Outside The Goal Crease”:
“A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.”
Shanahan’s decision initially didn’t sit well with Sabres GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff, who were furious over the incident prior to Lucic’s meeting with Shanahan.
Ruff suggested if there wasn’t supplemental discipline for Lucic, it would send the message around the league that goaltenders are fair game if they venture outside their creases, that they can be run over, potentially injured, and the offender would only receive a two-minute minor.
His opinion was shared by more than a few observers around the league, both in the MSM and blogosphere, suggesting Shanahan missed an opportunity to discipline Lucic and send a message hitting goaltenders wouldn’t be tolerated.
Shanahan chided Ruff for his comments, calling them irresponsible, yet the Sabres coach appeared prophetic when, in the Sabres next game , a 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal forward Erik Cole appeared to deliberately skate through the Sabres goal crease during overtime, colliding with goaltender Jhonas Enroth.
Cole was assessed a two-minute penalty for interference and Enroth fortunately wasn’t injured in the collision.
Lucic does have a history of what could be considered borderline recklessness. He earned a one-game suspension for cross-checking Maxim Lapierre in the face during Game Three of the 2009 Conference Quarter-final series between the Bruin and Montreal Canadiens,
Two years later, he received a game misconduct for boarding Jaroslav Spacek during Game Six of the Canadiens-Bruins Conference quarterfinal, though he was not suspended for the following game.
Following Shanahan’s decision, Bruins coach Claude Julien said this wasn’t the first time someone unfortunately got in the way of Lucic, pointing out the winger tends to bury his head chasing pucks, and noted last year during a practice he inadvertently bowled over one of the Bruins coaches.
That, however, appears to condone a style of play which, over time, could create problems for Lucic and the Bruins.
A rival player or players could decide to “address” his apparent recklessness. It might occur when the Sabres and Bruins meet on November 23rd, or perhaps in another game with another team, resulting in another incident for Shanahan to address.
Lucic maintained he never intended to hit Miller, pointing out Miller’s head never collided with either his body or the ice. The Bruins winger also expressed surprise Miller had suffered a concussion on the play, noting the goalie continued to play the remainder of the first period and the entire second period.
He also questioned why Miller wasn’t sent to the “quiet room” for observation immediately following the incident, as required by NHL rules for players displaying or complaining of concussion-like symptoms.
To be fair to Lucic, Miller had to be aware of the possibility he could be hit if he ventured out of his crease to play the puck. While goalies aren’t considered “fair game”, they’re not immune from contact if they’re out playing the puck, especially if they’re trying to outrace a large, hard-charging forward.
That’s not playing the “blame the victim” card, but merely suggesting perhaps Miller wasn’t fully prepared for the potential consequences, which if he had, could have spared him possible injury.
Lucic’s intent remains a hot topic of debate, while the fallout from this situation could extend beyond Shanahan’s decision on the matter.
Ruff and Regier were upset at the meek response by their players on the ice at the time of the incident, reportedly expressing their unhappiness during a team meeting on Sunday. Regier said he intended to raise the matter during the meeting of NHL general managers in Toronto on November 15th, and after speaking with Shanahan, claimed to be “satisfied” the need to protect goalies remained important. Ruff, however, refused to walk back from his remarks.
Sabres Paul Gaustad and Tyler Myers, who were on the ice during the incident, acknowledged following the game their response and those of their teammates wasn’t the appropriate one.
In other words, no one on the Sabres avenged Miller for Lucic’s actions.
Sure, the Sabres players have publicly stated they’ve dealt with this situation and are moving on, and Regier claimed to be “satisfied” after speaking with Shanahan, but the hockey world will still have considerable interest in the next Sabres-Bruins game, which will determine just how “satisfied” or “over it” the Sabres really are.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.