January 10, 2011
"A deaf, dumb and blind kid can see what it is."
That was Mike Milbury being Mike Milbury on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, speaking out about Tom Kostopoulos's(notes) hit that broke the jaw of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart(notes) and earned the Calgary Flames forward a 6-game suspension.
His point: That the hit doesn't fall under the scope of the Rule 48 ban on blindside hits; that Stuart was facing Kostopoulos, had recently handled the puck and that Kostopoulos had administered a legal hit.
While his delivery was over-the-top and his thinking was criticized as "prehistoric," he's ... he's... gulp.
OK, the bile is down.
Milbury's kind of right. And it's the NHL's fault for allowing wiggle-room for Neanderthals auditioning for Don Cherry's job.
The hit, once again, on Stuart from Friday night, which will knock him out of the lineup for up to eight weeks:
NHL VP Colin Campbell's statement on the matter:
"A number of factors were considered in reaching this decision," said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. "Kostopoulos delivered a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player. As well, he targeted the head of his opponent and, while the hit was not from the blindside, the head was the principle point of contact. The fact that Brad Stuart was not in possession of the puck when the blow was delivered and the serious nature of the player's injury were also considered in my decision."
"We strongly disagree, not only with the length of the suspension, but also with the fact that Tom was suspended," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said in a team-issued press release. "While we are sorry the player was injured, we maintained in the hearing the hit was a legal check. The player was batting at the puck and Tom hit him in the chest and finished his check through him. He did not target the head, and we do not believe the head was the initial point of contact. We respect the difficult job Colin Campbell has to do in these situations . . . we simply do not agree with the decision."
Those read like the Campbell and Feaster watched two different hits, but both agree on one thing: It wasn't a blindside hit.
Which makes the suspension a bit problematic. From Dirk Hoag of On The Forecheck, a Nashville Predators blog:
If this wasn't a lateral or blindside hit, then Rule 48 doesn't even apply here, right? The danger came because Stuart was looking down and to the side as he tried to play the puck. His body is almost fully square as Kostopoulos catches him.
... The only discernible reason a suspension is being handed down today is because Brad Stuart suffered an injury, and Mike Babcock made a big stink about it in the press. And that's a joke, plain and simple. How the players are supposed to get a message, when it doesn't even abide by the guidelines the league rolled out over the summer?
This is where the League continues to look hypocritical and inconsistent on supplemental discipline. Campbell mentions "the serious nature of the player's injury" in his verdict on Stuart. What he means is: An injury we can assess now rather than in several weeks, as with a concussion.
Think about it: David Perron(notes) of the St. Louis Blues hasn't played since Nov. 4. Joe Thornton(notes) of the San Jose Sharks received two games. At the time, none of us knew the severity of the injury; hell, we didn't even find out he was concussed until right around the ruling. But had there been some precognitive diagnosis of an eight-week absence from the lineup at the time of the hearing, does Thornton get two measly games?
This is the danger of suspending to the injury: You're bound to look inconsistent based on the injuries (Patrice Bergeron(notes) comes to mind) and/or you're going to look Milburyian in your thinking: Broken jaws make sense to the old school NHL disciplinarians; concussions were "bad headaches" 20 years ago.
Back to the blindside hit rule, which reads like this:
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head- A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.
What Kostopoulos did does not fall under this rule. What it was: A check to the head of an unsuspecting, immobile player that recently handled the puck and should have been avoided.
It's essentially a charge and a headshot; less deliberate than Matt Cooke's(notes) on Savard, in fact. And yet this new rule seems to have made this hit illegal when in fact it's not covered by the literal interpretation of the rule.
(Ed. Note: Leahy pointed out that Kostopoulos is a "born again first-time offender" because the 2008 suspension is off his "record" after 18 months.)
But under NHL rules, its illegality, beyond the roughing call, can be debated. Had there been a total ban on contact to the head, then yes, this is illegal. But there wasn't. So once again it appears they're just applying unwritten rules when they're useful or when the aggrieved party makes a large enough stink.
The fix is easy: Amend Rule 48 to read "A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact, or a hit to an unsuspecting and vulnerable player in which the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact, is not permitted."
Cover the bases. It's better than a total ban on all hits to the head.