It was like he was shot out of a cannon: a head-first King missile, launching into Couture’s upper body, cutting the Sharks forward’s face. It was a brutal hit, the kind you look at and immediately recognize as the sort of thing you don’t want to see in the NHL.
But what rule, exactly, did it break?
That was the conundrum for the NHL Department of Player Safety, which reviewed the hit after the game but opted not to have a suspension hearing for the Los Angeles Kings captain.
Forget the fact he wasn’t penalized on the ice; the Department of Player Safety exists, partially, to hand out punishments for calls that aren’t. The issue is that the play itself doesn’t necessarily fall into any category the NHL uses for supplemental discipline.
Was it a head-butt? Not really. Brown’s head is low, and it lifts upward into Couture’s, but the NHL sees head-butts as something more premeditated, like the kind delivered during a scrum.
Was it a charge? Not by the definition of the rule.
Was it an illegal check to the head, under Rule 48? According to the rule, you have to take the following into consideration:
Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not "picked" as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward
The NHL sees the Brown hit as a “hitting through the body” rather than “picking” the head. Even that lurch upward at the end wasn’t seen as an “unnecessary extension” because it happened during the course of a full-body hit in which his skates didn’t leave the ice until impact.
They also took into account that Brown stumbled a bit prior to the check, putting his body in an awkward position to deliver it.
So we’re left with a hit that looks bad. And the player that delivered it, Dustin Brown, is someone who may not be a dirty player but teeters on the brink of illegality more often than not.
It looks suspendable. But based on the rules the NHL has established, and based on the rulings the Department of Player Safety has previously made, it’s a check that falls into the nebulous area between being a dangerous play and being a hit that warrants suspension.
That said, Brown will reportedly receive a warning from the NHL to not do … whatever this was, again.
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