I recently stumbled upon a video on the Capitals Website that outlines all the official rule changes and new rules for the upcoming NHL season. The most important/controversial one is without a doubt the one that deals with checks to the head and the removal of hipchecks below the knee.
When it comes to the head-checking rule, the new standard for deeming what is “bad” or good when it comes to checks to the head is the direction the player is skating. For example, the hits that were administrated to Savard and Booth last season would be deemed illegal because the players dealing the hit were travelling on an east-west trajectory and blindsided the player with the check to the head. However, if a player is travelling east-west and deals a shoulder to shoulder check to a player, blindside or not, it is legal. North-South checks are still fair-game.
Being an adamant believer that hitting is an essential part of the game, I think that the NHL pushed it a little far when it comes to outlining its definition of “blindside”. I do agree that hits like the one Savard took are just cheap and definitely need to be removed from the game. Matt Cooke had absolutely no reason to throw the elbow after Savard had finished taking his shot. But eh, Matt Cooke is Matt Cooke and we all know that he’s useless for just about everything but taking players out of the game and trying to be better than Crosby when it comes to diving. But more on that later.
But when it comes to hits like the one Booth took from Mike Richards, I’m a little biased. Do I agree that the hit was administered to the head? Hell yes. Do I think that Mike Richards went into that hit thinking about ripping off Booth’s head? Hell no. Have a look at the video. Booth follows his pass and momentarily looks back before turning his head back to see where he’s going, only to receive a mouthful of Richards’ shoulder. For one, everyone knows, especially at the NHL level, that if you’re breaking into the other team’s defensive zone you do not, under any circumstances, cut towards the middle unless you want to get murdered. Secondly, IF, for some stupid reason you think it is actually a GOOD idea to cut through the middle, LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING. Don’t worry about whether or not your pass made it, it’s no longer in your hands. Rather, have a look in front of you to make sure a backchecking player doesn’t steamroll you into the ice. Finally, look at around the 50 second mark of the video; unlike Cook, Richards didn’t raise the elbow. It was a solid shoulder check that unfortunately, due to Booth looking back instead of forward, put his head right in the line of the shoulder. In my opinion, this isn’t an illegal hit.
What do you guys think?
P.S: Tragic news, the hip-check below the knee has also been deemed illegal. Idiocy if you ask me, if you get clipped by a hip-check, it’s honestly your fault. No player can cock his hips toward his target, drop below the knees and swing his body backwards fast enough for someone to say it was to quick to be able to dodge.
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Written by Philippe Lemire