So is Brad Marchand a victim of circumstance or a dirty hitter?
As is often the case with these things, we already know the extent of Salo's injury: a concussion, according to GM Mike Gillis, and we should all be thankful it isn't a shattered skeleton or an exploding stomach given that it's Sami Salo.
Marchand was given a five-minute major for clipping and a game misconduct in the Bruins' Saturday loss to Vancouver. That plus Salo's injury plus Marchand's previous run-ins with the NHL DoPS — fined $2,500 last month for slew-footing Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, suspended two games for an elbow to the head of R.J. Umberger last season — equals a hearing over the phone, which means Marchand's suspension would be less than five games.
That is, if he's suspended. The Bruins and Marchand are asking for penance because, in their eyes, this was an act self-defense in League overrun by concussions.
"It's just very unfortunate someone was hurt on the play," said Marchand on Sunday to Boston reporters, saying much more in his discussion of the hit:
How Marchand saw the hit:
"The puck was going around the boards and I went to pick it up and was kinda looking over my shoulder and saw Salo coming in and I just kind of went down. You look up and you see a guy who's 6-foot-4/6-foot-5 coming in on you, and your instincts are to just protect yourself and it was very unfortunate he was hurt on the play."
… "I've seen the replay a bit. I did go under him but I felt the base contact was about his hip point. That's usually a pretty legal hit from what I've seen in the past. I have no idea about how the League feels about it."
Why Marchand believes it was an act of self-defense:
"I think, in this league nowadays, with the size and strength of guys, everyone has to protect himself and different guys do it in different ways. In a game like last night when there's a lot of emotions and guys are running around a bit, you're definitely watching over your shoulder a little bit more and you want to try and protect yourself as much as you can. When you have a guy coming in on you, you have no idea what his intentions are and what the outcome's going to be. You're just trying to protect yourself in that situation."
These were the words his coach, Claude Julien, also used in defending Marchand after the game. From The Bruins Blog, here's Julien:
"We all have our opinions on what is going on with the game and the hits and everything else. All I'm going to tell you is that I always told my players that they need to protect themselves," said Julien. "The last thing I want my players to do is get hit and then end up with a concussion, and they have to protect themselves. Whether it's the right way or the wrong way, it'll depend on how the league looks at it. I'd rather have a guy take a two-minute penalty than turn his back to the play, stand up straight, and then get his face knocked into the glass and be out for maybe the rest of the year with a concussion, or maybe end his career like [Marc] Savard.
"So I think we have to really look at those kinds of things. In my opinion, if guys start protecting themselves the way Marchand did, maybe guys will stop taking runs at other guys because that's the consequences you end up paying for taking runs at guys, too. Who knows where we're going to go with this? I know we're all trying hard to fix that part of the game, but it's still there, and it's still not fixed."
A few thoughts here:
1. Having watched the replay about 50 times, I'm still waiting to see the cut in which Sami Salo "takes a run" at Marchand. He's going to throw a check as Marchand gains position of the puck. If that's what qualifies as "running a guy" in Claude Julien's book, then the Bruins do more running than a Kenyan marathoner.
(Note: As reader Eric Southward reminded us, you can see Marchand and Salo collide in nearly the same spot and then have a little back and forth in the middle of the zone. Perhaps Marchand thought enough had transpired that Salo was going to cheap-shot him, as if Salo has a rep for that sort of thing.)
2. No one's saying Marchand can't protect himself. It's just the methodology and the reason for protection that are in dispute.
When Mike Richards throws an elbow at Pat Kaleta because that rat-fink is going to hit him from behind, the fact that it's in self-defense probably spared Richards from a suspension. Again, in this case, Salo's going for a check in the offense zone; is size disparity enough of a reason to clip him? Is Marchand saying "I have no idea what his intentions are" enough to validate bringing a gun to a fist fight?
As for methodology … Marchand believes it was the kind of hip-check that Keith Ballard delivers with aplomb. But it's not. It's a clip. At one point it looks like Salo is sitting Marchand's back. He deserved the major.
It's an interesting question for Claude Julien, who's had players suffer from and administer concussions: Is one brain injury in an act of self defense excused by a potential one from the act itself? It's the stuff of "Twilight Zone" morality plays.
3. It's getting a little tiresome to hear the Bruins — the biggest, baddest team on the block — use self-defense as a defense when inflicting harm on an opponent. Marchand wanted to send Salo skates-over-helmet. Milan Lucic wanted to freight-train Ryan Miller. After both collisions, we hear a Bruins play lamenting about his own safety while some guy's taking baseline tests.
It's a classic heel move for sure, but seriously boys ...
4. Should this be a suspension?
The NHL and Brendan Shanahan have continued to suspend to the injury and suspend players with multiple offenses; from that perspective, one can see Marchand getting the gate for maybe two games.
But Shanahan, despite what his critics claim, also has an old school streak. This isn't a hit from behind or an elbow to the head behind the play or a slew foot: It's a hip check that went too low, causing an injury when the player's head hit the ice.
"If that's an illegal hit, I'll take that out of my game," Marchand said.
His was, but hip-checks aren't.
Hip checks have slowly been leaving the game in the last several years, becoming much less frequent. To that end, they're probably not on the Shanahan wish list for "hits we don't want to see anymore." In fact, one might expect them to have protected status as a part of the game: Julien's right that it's a hell of a way to make a statement against a guy running you, provided you get the hip (Marchand didn't) and the guy's actually running you (Salo wasn't).
Which is why I'd leave it at a major and a game misconduct, and wouldn't suspend Marchand.
He was dinged for a slew foot and an elbow, and neither should have a place in the NHL. What he did to Salo is — and you hate to use this term, but Marchand used it — a hockey play gone wrong.
Provided that in 2012 the hip check is still a hockey play.