Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why the NHL Didn't Get the Toews Hit Right

It seems I'm in the minority here (for counter arguments, see here and here), but I'm still not convinced that Dennis Seidenberg shouldn't be suspended for stapling Jonathan Toews into the end boards on Thursday night in Boston (Not that it matters, the NHL has made its decision, but hear me out if you're so inclined).

It seems that the general consensus is that the NHL made the right call in letting Seidenberg off the hook. His coach, Claude Julien, pleaded Seidenberg's case immediately after the Blackhawks 3-2 win over the Bruins, saying "I view that five-on-three we're going to close a gap quickly and Dennis is a strong individual. So, is he supposed to get weak because of that situation? Or he just plays to his strength. Again, I wasn't happy. I looked at it, and it could be arguable, but from my end of it I think it's what it is. Our guys need to finish their checks and sure, you've got to be careful, but I'm sure [Toews] knew that he was coming.”

Julien added: "A player’s job is to finish his check and a player should know he’s going to be hit. It’s not about tonight, it’s about the whole league. I’m one of those guys who has put a lot of pressure on people who look at those kind of things and say, ‘It’s OK to take away those hits from behind when they’re warranted. But what about the other guy? Does he not have a responsibility?'"

Julien is genuinely making his case, but would he air the same views if the hit was on one of his top-three forwards, and the result was a season-ending injury?

More important, how much responsibility does a player need to have when he has won a footrace to the puck, is three feet from the boards, and plays in a league where illegal hits from behind are frowned upon, penalized and very often worthy of suspensions?

Julien asks "Is [Seidenberg] supposed to get weak because of that situation?" during his press monologue and, if he really wants an answer, YES. Clearly the NHL wants players to refrain from hitting other players from behind, and ESPECIALLY when they are in close proximity to the boards. Many seem to believe that Seidenberg's hit wasn't actually a hit from behind because he didn't hit Toews square in the numbers. But Seidenberg was pretty much directly behind Toews--his hip and thigh are directly in the center of Toews' body--and it is Seidenberg, not Toews, that turns at the last second to try and get his shoulder in front.

But he never does get his shoulder in front. He sticks it in the scapula of Toews and then, with all his might, follows through with his whole uper body to ensure that Toews has a close encounter of the worst kind with the boards.

Notice the raised left arm and stick high in the air, proof that Seidenberg has "exploded" through the hit and followed-through nicely.

One more picture: As you can see, Seidenberg is almost directly behind Toews, except for the torqued shoulder.

The NHL decided that a boarding penalty was enough. Claude Julien decided that Toews should have been "ready" to get checked from behind. Pundits say the NHL got it right. But I'm saying this: Toews got to the puck first, established position, then Seidenberg raced over there and straight-up jacked him. If Seidenberg had any kind of position on the play, then he could have, as Julien said, played to his strength and went for the booming hit. But he was pretty much directly behind Toews, so to go for a massive hit there (he did) is completely out of line. It should have warranted a phone call from the league, and because it hasn't we could be looking at more of these (see below).

Is it what the NHL wants? Regardless of who the player is (megastar like Toews or rookie call-up), do we want guys getting jolted like this?

The argument that many seem to be making is that Toews needed to be aware of Seidenberg and protect himself. It's a good point. Rather then get the hell out of dodge, Toews spreads his legs and keeps his back to Seidenberg, looking as if he's going to delay there for a while, feeling safe that he won't get pummeled and perhaps waiting for Seidenberg to pick a side before he darts in the other direction. Well, he was wrong. Next, time he'll know. One of the most creative, talented players in the NHL will be forced to play in fear of the hit from behind rather than playing the instinctive game that has made him such a venerable and mind-blowing talent during his tenure in the league.

Is that what we want? Apparently, most do. Not me.