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NHL = WTF? Mixed Messages in the Canucks/Bruins Finals.

Johnny Boychuk stares at Mason Raymond after his dirty hit on the Canucks forward. Johnny Boychuk stares at Mason Raymond after his dirty hit on the Canucks forward.

What the hell is wrong with the NHL? All this talk and controversy lately about fixing the rules of hockey and making them clearer to protect the players. It's the playoffs after all, and the NHL finds itself in the mainstream media's spotlight, with major injuries and concussions becoming more and more of a (logical and enlightened) focus. Its no wonder then, that we're left confused and angered at the lack of any call in Game 6 of the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins match-up, with the Stanley Cup itself on the line.

The hit I'm talking about, the hit that everyone who watches hockey is talking about today, is Boston Bruins' Johhny Boychuk's hit on Canucks' forward Mason Raymond:

 

Raymond left the arena on a stretcher. Canucks' President and General Manager Mike Gillis announced Tuesday that Raymond sustained a vertebrae compression fracture and is expected to miss 3-4 months. Fans cannot help but be confused: why was there no call on the play? Why has the NHL reviewed the situation and decided to do nothing about it?

Fans cannot help but be confused: why was there no call on the play? Why has the NHL reviewed the situation and decided to do nothing about it?

According to the 2010-2011 NHL Rulebook "Possession of the Puck" is defined as follows:

“The last player to touch the puck, other than the goalkeeper, shall be considered the player in possession. The player deemed in possession of the puck may be checked legally, provided the check is rendered immediately following his loss of possession.”

And in Section 7, a minor penalty is defined based on this:

“Minor Penalty - A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck.”

If you watch the slow motion replay of Boychuk's hit on Raymond, you'll see that Raymond never has possession, yet no minor penalty call was made.

Perhaps one could argue that Raymond just happened to miss the puck and Boychuk had already started to go in for the hit, in anticipation of Raymond's possession. It might be harder to rule based on anticipation, and in these fast paced games the refs simply just don't catch every call. But let's look at the precedent: consider how the refs have managed to call very similar hits during these playoffs, and how the NHL has ruled on this type of situation "after the fact" and very recently in two other cases during the 2011 playoffs.

1) Vancouver Canucks versus the Chicago Blackhawks, Game 3, Canucks' Raffi Torres' hit on the Hawks' Brent Seabrook. Take a look:

 

Torres passes the puck to the corner wing and then skates behind the net. Seabrook skates behind the net as well, and both players are trying to catch the next pass of the puck to a position behind the net. Neither player obtains possession of the puck, Seabrook puts his head down while his eyes are on it, and as they are colliding Torres' hit catches Seabrook with a shoulder to the head. Torres was given an interference penalty on the play.

There are clearly major similarities between this sequence of events and the Boychuk hit on Raymond in Boston: Raymond and Boychuck go for the same puck, neither has possession, Raymond's head is down, and Boychuck hits him. One big difference though is that in this second case there is no penalty called on the play.

2) Vancouver Canucks versus the Boston Bruins, Game 3, Aaron Rome's hit on Nathan Horton. Horton was out with a concussion and Rome was suspended for four games. A serious injury clearly, though the intent of the hit has been argued plenty and could still be debatable.

 

Rome received a 5-minute interference major penalty and game misconduct on this play. Mike Murphy, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations, told the media how the 4-game suspension decision was made:

“It caused a serious injury to Nathan Horton... So the key components are: the late hit, which I had it close to a second late. We have our own formula at NHL Hockey Operations for determining late hits, and it was late. We saw the seriousness of the injury with Nathan on the ice last night.

“That's basically what we deliberated on. We tried to compare it with some of the other ones in the past, but it stands alone. It's why we made the ruling.”

Considering Monday night's Game 6 hit, Murphy said via email to a Canadian newspaper Tuesday that the league's hockey operations department also reviewed Boychuk's hit on Raymond, deeming it an "awkward collision" not worthy of a suspension.

"[It was an] awkward collision between two players battling for space/room," Murphy wrote. "[You] rarely see a player bumped when in the position Raymond was in (bent over forward)."

The seriousness of both injuries to Horton and Raymond are clear. But if we go with Murphy's own criteria for suspension, Boychuck's hit was 2 seconds late. Intent is a grey area and oftentimes arguable, but if he is trying to setting quantifiable criteria based on seriousness of injury and timing of hits, then Murphy's not presenting a consistent case.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Canucks fans are left scratching their heads and crossing their fingers headed into Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. Mason Raymond and Aaron Rome will be absent, but Johnny Boychuk will be in the line-up to decide which team wins the Stanley Cup. Is that fair? Not in my books.

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Highlights of Stanley Cup Finals Game 6 between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins
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Last modified on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 19:00

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