Eric Gryba suspended 2 games for head shot on Lars Eller; did NHL get it right?

Defenseman Eric Gryba of the Ottawa Senators was suspended by the NHL for two games late Friday for his hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller that left Eller bloodied and unconscious on the ice in Thursday night’s Game 1 Senators victory.

To say the least, this Department of Player Safety video may have been the most highly anticipated explanation of the season:

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Gryba was given a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct. Eller was released from the hospital on Friday after suffering a concussion and facial fractures when he hit the ice face-first.

So the NHL’s take is:

Gryba was closing in on Eller when Rafael Diaz made his suicide pass to the blue line. As Eller receives the pass, Gryba delivers the hit. The NHL claims that the principal point of contact on this hit was Eller’s head, with the right shoulder the secondary point, and thus a violation of Rule 48.

Here’s where it gets interesting: The NHL claims that Gryba’s “route” was “not correct” and that he passed up making a full body check on Eller in favor of the hit he made.

Does that mean Gryba intentionally targeted the head? No, says the NHL. But it does mean he hit Eller’s head “recklessly,” in combination with his “not correct” check.

If you're looking for a previous case, the 5-game suspension to Ryan White would seem like a comparable one. As Leahy wrote last night:

This play was a recipe for disaster, beginning with Diaz sending a suicide pass Eller's way. His head is looking for the pass as Gryba is skating in to separate Eller from the puck. Like we saw in the Ryan White suspension, Gryba could have lined up his hit better with Eller's body, not his head, taking the brunt of the blow. The moment of impact appears to be the back of Gryba's shoulder with Eller's chest/head. That's how far off line he was on the hit.

All that said, and to put it mildly, the NHL blew this one.

Even if you want to accept the assessment here and from Brandon Prust of the Canadiens that Gryba’s hit was “incorrect,” the mitigating circumstance of Diaz’s pass and the notion that Gryba made an attempt to deliver a “clean check” – a notion the NHL accepts – should be enough to have this incident left at the in-game punishment.

Besides the obvious point of contention on whether or not the head was actually hit on this play, which frankly remains unclear.

This suspension reeks of aesthetics. That a play in which a player is face down on the ice with blood pouring out of this head, on which a major penalty was called, couldn’t be ignored by supplemental discipline for fear of … a backlash? I don’t know. It seems like they’ll get one anyway.

I hate that even under the Brendan Shanahan regime, the stretcher plus blood plus significant player lost equals suspension equation still seems to drive these decisions at times. Twenty-five games for Raffi Torres?

Gryba's was not a successful hit, a hockey play gone bad. But having seen this clip three dozen times, and even after the NHL video explanation, I don't think it warranted a suspension. I think it's a hit every defenseman steps up to make, and a pass no defenseman should attempt if he cares one iota about his teammate's well-being.

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