By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You’ll never believe this, but people who watch a lot of hockey have absolutely no idea whether or not the NHL department of player safety might enforce some level of discipline on a player for a questionable hit in the middle of a game. Who could have ever seen that coming?
This most recent example came Wednesday night in St. Louis, when Blues forward Brayden Schenn delivered a hit directly to the head of Bruins center David Krejci. Schenn was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for charging on the play, but considering the principal point of contact was clearly Krejci’s face and head, it’s a hit that will certainly come under the watchful eye of the department of player safety.
Of course, whether that department actually does anything is anyone’s guess. We’ve recently explained in great detail how inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary the decisions of that department have always been, so there’s room for both doubt and certainty that Schenn can expect anywhere from a multi-game suspension to a stiff fine to absolutely nothing at all. That’s just the way the NHL wants it.
Here’s a look at the hit in question. Sportsnet came in pretty hot with its title of the video:
It’s worth noting that Schenn has been suspended twice before. Both suspensions were for … charging.
While it’s clear Schenn hasn’t learned lessons from those suspensions, the NHL’s system does not deem him a “repeat offender” in terms of meting out punishment. Here is the exact explanation from the league: “A Player is considered a repeat offender for 18 months following his most recent incident that resulted in a suspension.”
You might be saying, “Wait, that’s some of the stupidest stuff I have ever heard.” Yes. Welcome to the National Hockey League, where you’re no longer a “repeat offender” if you avoid discipline for a whopping 18 months. So as far as the department of player safety is concerned, Schenn’s 2013 suspension for charging Anton Volchenkov and Schenn’s April 2016 three-game suspension for charging T.J. Oshie might as well have never happened.
Oh, but the NHL also adds this: “It is important to note that even if a Player is not defined as a repeat offender, his past history may come into consideration when determining future Supplemental Discipline.”
So … you’re not a repeat offender if you avoid discipline for 18 months. But also … you are a repeat offender. But only for some reasons … and it may come into consideration … and it also might not … so … we’ll just have to play it by ear. We’re winging it, folks.
Krejci was not injured on Thursday’s hit, or at least, he continued playing in the game and showed no apparent signs of a concussion. But Volchenkov and Oshie weren’t injured, either, and those hits led to suspensions for Schenn. It’s worth adding, though, that Schenn left his feet to make head contact on those plays; with Krejci, he did not. But again, those plays don’t matter. What does matter? It’s unclear.
As far as Bruins followers are concerned, Schenn deserves heavy punishment — not just for hitting Krejci, but because David Backes has seemingly come under the microscope of George Parros and Co. as of late. Backes — a player with zero disciplinary history in his dozen years in the NHL — delivered a hit on Frans Nielsen that was 110 percent late. He made contact with Nielsen’s head. That point of contact didn’t appear to be intentional, but that didn’t matter. Parros slapped Backes with a harsh three-game suspension. That discipline was on top of a two-minute penalty for roughing.
Just two games after returning from that suspension, Backes was assessed a match penalty for a hit to the head of Vincent Trocheck in the neutral zone. Trocheck had been leaning over, looking down and trying to find the puck, when Backes delivered a body check.
Because of the positioning of Trocheck’s head, the contact was, naturally, made to the head. Backes was sent to the locker room for the rest of the night.
And remember, Bruins fans watched Charlie McAvoy get decked with an elbow to the face by Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist in early March.
Hornqvist wasn’t even given a minor penalty for that hit. So really, someone could have watched only Boston Bruins games, for just three weeks, and that person would have a really difficult time understanding the rules of the National Hockey League.
Ultimately, neither Backes nor Hornqvist was suspended for hitting a player in the head, so Schenn will probably end up with the same fate. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.
Some hits are legal, some near-identical hits are illegal, and some similar hits are both illegal and subject to supplementary discipline. Which is which? You could spend your whole life trying to figure it out, and you’d never be able to reach a proper conclusion.
UPDATE: Just as probably half of you expected, Joe Haggerty reports that there will be no supplemental discipline for Schenn.