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Fallout from L’Affaire Lucic.

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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Comments

DocF's avatar

Well, Brendan, you just destroyed your credibility with this gutless decision.  I realize the Bruins are owned by Bettman’s best friend (only friend?) and have gotten away with garbage like this for years.  You had a chance to change this and you blew it. 

The Sabres players reaction was shameful.  I do not care who you are, you must go after someone who hits a key player with a dirty, cheap shot like that.  No one did anything.  Lucic should have been battered to within an inch of his life.  I hope you guys now understand.

Last night, when the Blues guy hit Kronwall from behind, the first guy after him was Zetterberg.  Now Zetterberg does not fight, but he was the closest guy to the perp, so he went after him.

The next time Boston and Buffalo play, Lucic should experience a serious injury for that shot.  That is the only way the Bruins will ever stop playing dirty hockey since Bettman will allow them to get away with anything.

Doc

Posted by DocF from Now: Lynn Haven, FL; was Reidsville, NC on 11/16/11 at 02:26 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

There are fans of 30 NHL teams who don’t ever want to see their goalies hit like this. Yes, even in Boston.

To say that a two minute minor for burying your head and not paying attention to where you’re going while you cover 30 feet of ice at full speed is acceptable is wildly reckless and, like Lindy Ruff said, sets a bad precedent.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 11/16/11 at 02:35 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

Shanahan sees these things like a player - which many lauded as a good thing.

Unfortunately, he sees these things as a player who played the game before many of the things he’s dealing with were considered issues. He plays at being judge, but rules from his gut instead of following precedent, and being aware of the precedents he sets.

He’s already decided who’s dirty and who’s just playing the game hard - and it seems like which category a player falls into has more to do with any punishment than the actual action on the ice.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 11/16/11 at 02:54 PM ET

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do you think he would have hit Tim Thomas like that ?  Im sure he would have tried to avoid his own goalie…...

Posted by scarchofi on 11/16/11 at 02:56 PM ET

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The No (Fight or) Hit League.  That’s what so many of you yuppies are succeeding in making this game.  Newsflash to Ryan Miller… stay in your crease when see a bulldozer chasing down the puck…. don’t race him to it.  The same that applies to players that skate around the rink with their heads down.  These rules aren’t protecting you; protect yourselves.  Good on Lucic for bowling over that yapper in Miller.  Funny how he got tough after the game when a mic was in his face.  Yeah, he’s tough…

Posted by Siggy25 on 11/16/11 at 03:00 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

Actually, running goalies is becoming something of an epedemic in the northeast division. I don’t know if it’s more widespread.

I don’t know who started it, but all six teams seem to be doing it - and I include both the Sabres and my Senators in that bunch. Usually it takes the form of the player who ‘inadvertantly’ makes contact in the crease, or ‘accidently’ falls on the goalie in the scramble, or is nudged by the opposing defender and ‘sent flying’ on top of the goaltender. Lucic’s hit is just the most extreme. Pacioretti came very close to injuring Craig Anderson a while back, when he was pushed in front of the Ottawa net and went down a little overzealously (by which I mean he leapt 3 feet forward to hit the goaltender into the post).

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 11/16/11 at 03:03 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

The same that applies to players that skate around the rink with their heads down.

Like Lucic did?

Maybe Miller should have planted him instead of trying to play the puck.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 11/16/11 at 03:57 PM ET

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Really people.  Buffalo is complaining about this.  Watch the highlight reels of goalies being hit over the last little while, you’ll notice an awful lot of sabre forwards hitting other goalies, including a bout between Emery and Peters, by bout I mean fight! 

Miller got hit, he was out at the hash marks, live with it.  by the way folks, which hit was it that caused the concussion?  The Lucic hit or the driving of Seguin into Miller then into the ice and ?

Posted by Russellever from Ottawa on 11/19/11 at 12:50 PM ET

Avatar

Lucic catches lumber in a just world. This Eastern European thug outside the NHL would be sporting a large gold chain and leather jacket, driving an armored Benz for a Serbian mobster.

Posted by DSM on 02/17/12 at 10:34 PM ET

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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.