Canucks and Beyond

Addressing Non-Calls for Head Hits

01/29/2009 at 4:55pm EST

Last night’s Canucks/Predators game was a nasty debacle about which I can’t form coherent thoughts without losing rational judgment. (i.e. The Canucks seem to be sapping my will to live; so you can see how “rational judgement” isn’t a big part of the thought process right now.)

So instead I’m going to set that whole mess aside and concentrate on something that occurred to me during that game, on the topic of head-hits. It’s an issue that demands serious analysis (not exactly my bailiwick, admittedly) but I’ve decided to take a shot at it.

Canucks and Predators fans will remember that Mattias Ohlund took a hit to the head in the second period, an elbow from (I think) Joel Ward. I’m not going to judge that hit in particular, but want to consider the procedures in place to make that call during a game.

For the incident in question, Ohlund was struck hard enough to require stitches a few minutes later, but the hit went unnoticed by the refs. Unfortunately, Ohlund’s immediate on-ice reaction was a dangerous one—he swung his stick at Ward, twice I believe—and ended up with the only penalty in the situation.

Even while we can sympathize with his knee-jerk reaction to the head hit, there’s no question Ohlund deserved the penalty. And I’ll also concede that even a good officiating crew can miss something critical in a game… like a hit to the head. It happens.

But at the same time, since hits to the head are such a serious issue as nearly everyone agrees, I propose that there should still be a remedy to deal with situations where a ref missed a call, so that the infraction can be deal with in a serious way, since non-calls for head hits seem to be one of the biggest complaints from fans and pundits alike.

So here’s my idea. I’m not sure how effective this would be—and some people might see major flaws in it—but I’ll take a shot at it. (Note: I’ve only been using the Ohlund hit for the sake of argument; none of this is an indictment of Joel Ward, just an example of what seems to be a common situation.)

In a nutshell, the idea would be to include hits to the head as subject to video review.

Currently video reviews are only utilized for questions surrounding goals, I believe. But if hits to the head are deemed a serious enough issue to the NHL, could they not be subject to the same review?

The idea might seem overly-complicated at first, but here’s how I propose it might be workable.


Let’s assume Ohlund tells the coach that it was an intentional hit to his head. The coach can then make the call whether he wants to file an immediate grievance. He would have the right—during the next stop in play—to inform the officials that he wants the incident reviewed on video.

Obvious problem: How does one prevent abuse of this review process?

A team that files grievance better feel very sure that that there was a hit, and have faith that a camera angle picked up that hit, because if the video reviewers see no obvious fault, the team is automatically subjected to a 2 minute penalty for “delay of game.”

Furthermore, this grievance could only be filed once per team, in any one game.


Once informed by the coach that he’s officially requesting the review, the video review is turned over to Toronto where they will decide “yes, there is a significant possiblity the hit was intentional” or “no, there is no grounds (or sufficient video) to conclude there was a hit at all… or that it was intentional.”

—If ruled “Yes”: This doesn’t mean the player is certainly guilty, only that there is sufficient grounds to review the issue closer by the league’s disciplinary folks. Meanwhile, the immediate response would be to remove the offending player from the game, to face that formal review the following day where it will be decided formally if there are grounds for discipline.

It’s important to note here that there would be NO penalty for the offending team during the game in question. They would lose their player for the remainder of the match, but that’s all.

However, the player who is found guilty at a formal hearing would be subject to the same penalties as any other player found guilty of a head hit, when it’s called during the game. (What that punishment should be, that’s another debate altogether. Obviously many people don’t feel those penalties are generally serious enough. I’ll leave that argument to someone else.)

—If ruled “No”: Then that’s the end of it. The player would not be penalized in any way. And the team that filed a grievance would be assessed a 2 minute penalty effective immediately.


What does this system hope to accomplish?

Well, this system would assume that the issue of hits to the head is bigger than the rules of the game. So even if the offense wasn’t initially caught by the refs, there is a still a procedure in place to address concerns of dangerous behavior.

Believe me, I’m not crazy about adding another aspect of video review to our favorite game, but if we deem these hits to be serious problem—and clearly we do—then perhaps that makes it worthwhile.

While admittedly the system does risk causing hardship on the team which may lose their player mid-game in the event that he is held out of the game for review the following day, I think that’s a reasonable hardship. And it’s not likely to be a common problem. Certainly, no more common a problem than the burden taken by the other team when their player suffers a head injury from an illegal hit, whether it’s caught by the refs during the play or not.

The procedure would allow the league to address head hits, no matter when or where they happen.

So, is this a workable idea?

People who’ve thought this issue through further than myself might have ways of tweaking this procedure that could have better results. Or perhaps you have other ideas on the topic altogether?

I’d be glad to read your thoughts in the comments.

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