Head Contact Suspensions in the NHL

John Scott’s hit on Boston’s Loui Eriksson sparks yet another violent head check debate.

In recent years, the NHL has prided itself on enacting stiffer sentences for violent offenses. A recent example includes Patrick Kaleta’s 10 games suspension for his hit on Jack Johnson. The policy guiding suspension decisions on hits to the head in the NHL is primarily Rule 48: A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.

In guiding decision makers, this policy poses no direct issue. Using the wording of the policy, a decision maker is able to distinguish the relative severity of intent for any check to the head. However, the issue is that factors outside Rule 48 unrelated to the actual action of the offender are currently being considered in the decision on suspensions. The circumstances of the victim (i.e. his ability to get up, to continue playing, if he was concussed/hospitalized, or if he was knocked unconscious) play a big role in the deliberation process, and this is unfair for all constituents involved. For instance, “circumstances of the hit” (not player), as outlined in Rule 48, can be analyzed and reassured through video review. This differs greatly from, say, the argument of one’s “intent to injure”, however, since the former is rather circumstantially objective while the latter is completely subjective. In this case, Loui Eriksson was in a vulnerable position, as per Rule 48, but contact with the head was in no way imminent. In making a decision on suspensions for checks to the head, the action of the offender should be the only criterion, and other “peripheral” factors should be exempt from the suspension. In this case, John Scott’s decision to hit Loui Eriksson should culminate into a pre-set penalty (10 games, 20 games, 82 games, etc.) for the offender due to the intent, not the result of the hit.

In conclusion, Rule 48 serves as a good basis for determining the ability to penalize a check to the head. The subjective nature of determining the contributing factors unrelated to Rule 48 to every hit-to-the-head incident, however, must be changed in policy. Perhaps a new policy should be in place which disallows other factors in unique situations to leak into the decision process, and entails any and all considerable factors in a check to the head incident.

What’s your stance?


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One Response to Head Contact Suspensions in the NHL

  1. rb10lh says:

    I agree with you definitely, however I also feel like Shanahan is not as in tuned to policies as we are, and thus his suspensions seem to be with no rhyme or reason attached to it. They definitely do look at who the player that got hurt was, and how badly he got hurt, which I also feel is wrong. If they truly followed rule 48 more, then it would be a lot easier for players to know what will and will not get suspended and for how long. I do not believe players truly know how long they will be suspended for doing certain things.

    Marked – SE

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