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Editorial: The Department of Player “Safety” Strikes Again

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After Shea Weber’s dirty hit on Vladislav Namestnikov, referees and Department of Player Safety decline to take action.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In last night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, Shea Weber boarded Vladislav Namestnikov. There is no question that this was boarding. There is no question that he should have been given a five minute major and a game misconduct. There is no question that he should have been suspended for at least two games.

The referees on the ice, Frederick L’Ecuyer and Dan O’Rourke, declined to penalize Weber. The Department of Player Safety then declined to even have a hearing.

So, let’s take a look at how all parties involved got this one wrong and why the Lightning are now facing Namestnikov missing multiple games with an upper-body injury while Shea Weber walked away clean.

(By the way, Brian Boyle tried to call out Weber for his actions, but the linesmen and referees stepped in immediately to protect Weber from getting pummeled by Boyle for the hit.)

First, let’s review the rules on boarding from the NHL rule book.

A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.

Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious “icing” or “off-side” play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is “boarding” and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as “charging.”

The last paragraph is not relevant to this situation, so we can ignore it.

Here’s the video of the hit:

First, is Namestnikov defenseless? The Department of Player Safety has demonstrated in videos that a player that braces for a hit is not considered defenseless. As we view the play, Namestnikov is trying to gather in the puck. He does take a quick look towards the net and then back at the puck just prior to being hit. In no way does Namestnikov prepare for the hit. He has his head turned away from Weber for most of the play.

Second, is Namestnikov checked violently or dangerously into the boards? Without a doubt, yes. You cannot look at this play and say that it was not a violent check into the boards. I should also note that nowhere does the rule book state that a player must be checked from behind for it to be boarding. It only states that the player be defenseless.

The next paragraph is where we find Weber even more guilty. The onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid or minimize contact on a defenseless player. Weber did neither and in fact took extra effort to forcefully make the check to a defenseless Namestnikov.

The next part of the paragraph maintains that the player being checked cannot turn and put themselves in a vulnerable position. Namestnikov continued straight line skating. He did not turn his body prior to or simultaneously to the hit.

It is very clear here that Shea Weber has violently checked a defenseless player into the boards, did nothing to minimize the contact, and that Namestnikov did not put himself in a vulnerable position to make the violence of the check unavoidable.

With Weber guilty of boarding, the next section of the rule book outlines the level of punishment that should be awarded for the infraction.

41.2 Minor Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, to a player guilty of boarding an opponent.

41.3 Major Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, to a player guilty of boarding an opponent (see 41.5).

41.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by boarding.

41.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.

With the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, a Major Penalty would have been appropriate. We see minors for boarding all the time, and the degree of violence in those hits do not stack up to Weber’s hit on Namestnikov. I do not believe that Weber was attempting to injure Namestnikov, so that rules out a Match Penalty and leaves us with a Major Penalty. Further, the foul resulted in an injury to Namestnikov’s upper body and forced him to leave the game. Weber should have been given a Game Misconduct and an early shower.

The fact that the Department of Player Safety has decided that hits like this are SAFE and should continue in the NHL is quite baffling. They have not acquitted their duties to protecting players. They have failed in their responsibility to protect players from predatory hits. This is not the first time this season we have seen the Department of Player Safety disregard a dirty hit that took a player off the ice for multiple weeks. With their inability to act and actually protect players, I have zero confidence in their abilities.

The NHL’s continued lip service to safety is continually shown with their inability to take action to protect players. If the NHL was serious about protecting players, then the leaders of the Department of Player Safety should be replaced with people that will take the issue seriously. Otherwise, the NHL should just disband them as they serve no purpose in the NHL.