Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ovechkin on Campbell

If you haven't seen it, well, here it is:

(when you notice the title, take into account the user's name)

Chicago Blackhawk Brian Campbell, the victim, was seriously injured on the play. He's out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone and cracked ribs. Ovechkin was suspended for the Caps' past two games this week, a 7-3 rout of the Florida Panthers and a tough 4-3 OT loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Ovechkin also received a five minute boarding major and a game misconduct on a play.

It wasn't as bad as it looked.

How many times do we see a defenseman have to take a hit from a forechecker? Lots of times. Same sort of scenario here: dump in, Ovechkin chases the defenseman, who passes the puck away. By now, Ovechkin is committed to the hit. Campbell has already seen him. This got him into trouble before with kneeing incidents. They tell you in hockey school (from what I hear) that you take the hit along the boards, as that is the safest play--the boards absorb some of the impact and there's no room for your body to contort in weird ways. But Campbell is a great skater. He thinks he can get away from the forechecker. Big mistake. Ovechkin pushes him as Campbell is turning and Campbell flies into the boards.

Some things to notice:

1) Campbell toe-picked. His left skate you can easily see hit some rut on the ice. Maybe Campbell could have kept his balance otherwise.

2) Campbell and Ovechkin were going more parallel than perpendicular to the boards. This is important. It means the contact was..

3) A shoulder-on-shoulder push. The side angle from NBC shows it best. The broadcast angle shows one number covered--hitting from behind from that view--but the side shows a shoulder on shoulder contact.

4) The call on the ice was boarding. After conference, the officials added a game misconduct. Why? James Mirtle (in the below J.R. links) argues that it was because it was a hit from behind. That wasn't the call on the ice, so why should Ovechkin be penalized as such?

5) The Caps won. Colin Campbell won't be losing sleep over suspending the best player in the world and the two-time reigning MVP, as if the Caps lose out on the top seed in the East or overall, they'll only have themselves to blame.

Now, I'll say this: Ovechkin should not have been suspended.

Why? Well, because then Colin Campbell, the NHL's disciplinarian, is penalizing because of injury, not the play itself.

There are unfortunate things that happen in hockey. Sometimes, the plays aren't routine. Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke and Philadelphia Flyer Mike Richards went out of their way to hit Boston Bruin Marc Savard and Florida Panther David Booth respectively. But those aren't even the worst hits. Tampa Bay Lightning Steve Downie only got a fine for a vicious slew-foot on Penguin Sidney Crosby, one that should have been suspended if any from the Sunday of Ovechkin's hit on Campbell. Penguin Craig Adams nailed Ovechkin from behind into the boards and Adams only got a minor penalty, no suspension.

The NHL discipline system is flawed. It's inconsistent.

More recently, James Wisniewski was suspended 8 games for a hit on Blackhawk Brent Seabrook. Seabrook just before that had made a pretty bad hit on Anaheim Duck Corey Perry. Watch the hit:

How bad was it? I think that the appropriate call would have been a charging penalty with a game misconduct and a game suspension, but since the call on the ice was a minor, a two-game suspension I think would have been appropriate. Instead, 8 games. Why? No one knows. Wisniewski got him on a leaping hit, but one close to the boards. It's normally routine, that play, except Wisniewski jumped to make the hit. And Seabrook gets off clean for a dangerous clip to Corey Perry.

I guess our perception of what should be suspended and what shouldn't is based a lot on precedent. Nowadays, we have none. Colin Campbell has done an excellent job of not giving us anything to judge hits with. Nothing. And that's the travesty of it all. Why should Ovechkin be suspended for a routine play gone wrong (in Campbell turning to try and avoid the forechecker) while completely non-routine plays don't get any sort of serious additional punishment?

For more, go to Japers' Rink (there are several long discussions here, here, and here), The Peerless Prognosticator (here), and From the Rink (here). (By the way, no comparison on Lapierre vs Ovechkin. Lapierre's hit was much much worse).

(Note: you can find all the hits I referenced on YouTube quite easily)

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