One of the hallmarks of the Brendan Shanahan-led NHL Department of Player Safety has been a shared responsibility between the player hitting and the player being hit.
The high hit administered by Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty on Saturday night that broke the nose of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang offered its share of challenges, from the principal of contact to Letang placing himself in harm's way. In the end, the NHL suspended Pacioretty for three games, and here's why:
Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has been suspended, without pay, for three games for delivering an illegal hit to the head of Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang during NHL Game #331 Saturday night in Montreal, the National Hockey League's Department of Player Safety announced today.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Pacioretty will forfeit $26,351.34. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
The incident occurred at 16:46 of the third period. Letang suffered a broken nose as a result of the hit. No penalty was assessed on the play. Pacioretty will miss games Nov. 30 at Anaheim, Dec. 1 at San Jose and Dec. 3 at Los Angeles. He will be eligible to return Dec. 6 vs. Columbus.
As for the hit, Shanahan made it clear: Letang knew what he was getting into but cutting down the middle of the ice, but that's not an invitation to skull-bash him.
From Shanahan on the DoPS video:
"As Letang crosses the blue line, his head is up and his winger is driving to the net. In spite of the fact he knows a check is imminent, he still makes the decision to put the puck on the net. Cutting through the middle like this, all players accept the danger and expectation that a full body check may be looming. Letang makes the decision to sacrifice his body, and must accept the possibility of taking a hit to make the play.
"However, what no player should expect is that his head will be picked and made the principal point of contact on such a hit. "
Pacioretty argued that Letang's body positioned changed on the shot, and he couldn't avoid this contact. The NHL disagreed.
Marek made the argument on our radio show today that Letang put himself in a dangerous position and must suffer the consequences. I argued that the NHL, in 2011, is attempting to take the danger away for the players who choose to do what Letang did, which is have the nerve to shoot the puck when there's an onrushing defensive player.
The onus is on the hitter here as, frankly, it should be if we're going to mandate player safety. The operative phrase isn't "don't hit the player"; it's "don't make the head the principal point of contact." It's really not asking for too much other than concern for your fellow player. It was a dangerous hit, the League doesn't want to see it anymore.
Was three games too much? It's one more than we guessed. For a guy with no priors, two would have been fine. But as a wise man once said of a hit he felt was dangerous: "I'm not talking a big number, I don't know, one game, two games, three games...whatever, but something to show that it's not right."
(Please don't confuse this for "Pacioretty is a hypocrite for breaking a guy's nose" nonsense. Because it's nonsense.)
So how will the Canadiens react to this? An inkling from Mike Boone of Hockey Inside/Out:
Let the anguished howls begin. This is three games more than Zdeno Chara got for his hit on Pacioretty.
It's also three games more than Ryan Malone's hit on Chris Campoli. And three games more than Milan Lucic got for knocking Ryan Miller out of action.
Gentlemen (and ladies): Start your conspiracy theories.
It's also three more games than either Dave Steckel or Victor Hedman received back in January. If we're going there.