A loss is a loss, but some have a different gravity to them. On Tuesday, December 8, the Blackhawks were defeated by the Rangers 6-2. The game itself was a lopsided affair, especially in the third period. However, it wasn't just New York comfortably walking away with two points that made watching the match an unpleasant experience.
For the most at the Original Six tilt between the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers was a pretty even game, until the second period. The Rangers are loaded with talented players, and their long-suffering fans are almost certainly enjoying the team's recent success. This game was decided in the second period after Jujar Khaira had to be stretchered off after a hit, initially described as clean, from Jacob Trouba. It's not Khaira's first "upper-body" injury, to use nebulous hockeyspeak, and hopefully, this doesn't have any lasting effects for him.
The issue here is that the hit was determined as being clean. While the officials haven't come out and explained why there wasn't a penalty on the play, it has to be assumed that because Khaira hadn't seen Trouba coming it was ruled a fair hit, albeit one with horrible consequences. In fact, the Rangers' coach Gerard Gallant went on record to say just that the press after the game. Vince Z. Mercogliano quoted Gallant saying:
I'm going to go on record and say that I think that's nonsense, and will respectfully disagree with Gallant. Consider the NHL's own rules on head shots (rule 48):
"48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. In determining whether contact with an opponent's head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered: "
"(i) 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. "
"(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable. "
"(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact. "
There was 100% contact with Khaira's head, and this wasn't just a big body check. The purpose of checking is not to blow up the opposing player in a spectacular fashion, whether or not the head is the intended target. Checking is purely about separating a player from a puck. That's it. Don't believe me, consult sources like Hockey Canada and USA Hockey's Rulebook.
"A body check can be defined as body contact primarily caused by the movement of the checker. The checker uses their body for the purpose of stopping the attacking progress of the puck carrier and/or to separate the carrier from the puck."- Hockey Canada
And USA Hockey offers an explanation of what Body Checking is not.
"A player cannot deliver a body check to any player while participating in a competitive contact category. Examples include:"
"Making intentional physical contact with an opponent with no effort to legally play the puck."
"Using overt hip, shoulder or forearm contact with the opponent to physically force them off the puck."
"Physically impeding the progress of the opponent with hips, shoulders or torso without establishing competitive contact and making no attempt to gain possession of the puck."
These are a couple of examples of how players from North America are taught to understand body checking. Contrary to Gallant's comments, Trouba's hit is not in line with how are hits are taught. Basically, Troba should know better. Go back and watch that video to see where Trouba made any effort to play the puck, or even looked like he was going to play the puck. I don't believe that Trouba lined Khaira up for a headshot on purpose, but in taking advantage of a vulnerable player, he absolutely went for a punishing hit that incidentally sent his target (Khaira) to the emergency room. Nothing was called on Trouba, and it should have been.
For reference, Connor Murphy received a match penalty after laying out Tampa Bay Lightning's Erik Cernak last year. It was reviewed by the league and determined a clean hit which merited no further supplemental discipline. Back then I argued that the match penalty was fair, and still believe that to be the case. I can't really imagine how the officials saw Khaira wheeled out on a stretcher and thought everything was fine, especially when Murphy sat out part of a game for less.
The worst is that it was only just recently that Murphy himself entered concussion protocol after receiving an ugly hit from Alexander Ovechkin. I stand by calling Ovechkin's hit on Murphy a charge. It should have been called, and/or met with supplemental discipline from the league. Same for Trouba's hit on Khaira. The fact that nothing resulted on the ice and there was silence from the league's brass speaks volumes about what it thinks about player safety.
Just add to a little salt to the wound, an incident in the AHL flew under the radar. During a game between the Rockford IceHogs (Blackhawks affiliate) and the Grand Rapids Griffins (Red Wings affiliate), Luke Witkowski was suspended for two games because of a charging penalty during the game.
Detroit's response was to call Witkowski up the NHL on December 7, where he essentially avoided his suspension that had been announced on December 6 and was able to keep playing. This shouldn't even be allowed to happen. No player should be given the chance to sidestep repercussions for poor decision-making, and this is. yeat another example of where the league needs to step in.
That's three players that have been injured, and are now in concussion protocol. That's three times the NHL could have stepped in and done something about player safety, and three times nothing happened. Not to mention that Lukas Reichel was already in concussion protocol from a questionable hit, and Arvid Soderblom is also missing time for a concussion. Within the Blackhawks organization, there are five (!) players out with upper-body injuries, four of which are in concussion protocol. No word yet as to the status of Khaira, although a press release says he has an excellent prognosis. Gary Bettman and the league's brass can say whatever they want about player safety, but at the end of the day, their lack of action is what matters.