It is all how you saw the hit by Canucks' Jannik Hansen on Blackhawks' Marian Hossa
VANCOUVER - Jannik Hansen is wrong about one thing. It wasn’t a hockey play.
It was a basketball play, two opposing players straining for the same ball, one having to reach over the other because he was being boxed out, even backed into.
Or a baseball play, two fielders parked under the same pop fly, the one closest to it being run over by the one behind.
In basketball, it’s a personal foul, the only consequence being that it counts against the team’s total. In baseball, it’s “oops, I guess somebody should have called it.”
In hockey, Hansen’s innocent-looking contact with the back of Marian Hossa’s evidently ultra-fragile head on Tuesday night was, in the apt phrase of a colleague, a Rorschach test. As was the one-game suspension the NHL handed down Wednesday evening.
How you saw it, as demonstrated by the 180-degree divergence in interpretations of bloggers and tweeters and broadcasters in the two cities, appears to depend entirely on how blindly devoted you are to the Vancouver Canucks or the Chicago Blackhawks.
How the referees saw it, in real time, was ... well, they didn’t. Neither Mike Leggo nor Kevin Pollock raised his arm to indicate a penalty until quite a bit of time elapsed after Hossa went down, until Hawks captain Jonathan Toews gave them the what-for.
Only then, with Hossa on the ice being tended to by the Hawks’ trainer, and the fans yelling, and Toews lobbying and the Chicago bench screaming, did Hansen get waved to the penalty box.
That doesn’t look terribly good on the referees, but let’s just say it’s hardly the first time hockey’s arbiters have taken the path of least resistance in front of an angry mob.
How the NHL’s office of player safety saw it -- trying to read minds while looking at long-range video that provides little detail on any of the movements before Hansen’s forearm arm made contact with the back of Hossa’s helmet -- was likely to have been influenced less by conclusive evidence than by a different mob: the one that believes all concussions are caused by dirty hits.
Read Kerry Fraser’s response to a reader’s query on the incident and you pretty much get the whole picture from a guy who’s got no dog in this fight.
He doesn’t just blindly defend the referees; indeed, he questions how belatedly the penalty was called, and suggests the call was likely made owing to heightened sensitivity after Hossa’s season-ending concussion on a vicious head shot by Phoenix’s Raffi Torres last spring.
Before we go any further, let’s get this much straight: when Torres, playing for the Canucks, clocked Chicago’s Brent Seabrook behind the Hawks’ net in the 2011 playoffs, this (Vancouver-based) column called it a dirty head hit on a unsuspecting player, ripped the league for being soft on the hit and inventing a rule to avoid punishing Torres ... and took all manner of abuse from Canuck fans for being anti-Vancouver. So be it. Part of the job.
When Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf hit Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis a fly-by blow a couple of years back and Hamhuis’s head struck the glass, and he was concussed, this (Vancouver-based) column thought it wasn’t a suspendable hit. Same outraged reaction.
And this too: we’re on the record here as being in favour of punishment for any hit to the head, even accidental, the same as any cut caused by a stick.
So we’re not making this argument out of any pro-Canucks agenda. If Hansen must go because all head contact is bad head contact, that’s life. He should do time -- a little time -- and pay his debt to society.
But there are two big problems with that kind of blanket judgment.
One is defining what’s a hit, and what’s a love-tap, what’s severe and what only looks severe in retrospect because the recipient is especially susceptible to head trauma.
The other, related, is consistency. That is, if the National Hockey League punishes Hansen for an injury Hossa incurred on a hit so slight, someone without pre-existing concussion issues likely would have shrugged it off -- or turned around and cuffed the other guy in annoyance, no more than that -- then a major rewrite of the rules of the game is in order.
If incidental head contact is cause for suspension, how is it possible for the league to continue to condone, even tacitly encourage, fighting, wherein two players punch each other repeatedly in the head, with nothing in mind other than intent to injure, and are given five minutes each, and remain in the game?
This paradox, as we’ve noted many times before, cannot withstand any reasonable examination.
If any point-of-first-contact head blow is cause for supplemental discipline, a participant in a fight has to be tossed out of the game, at minimum.
I say this as someone who understands the fight-in-anger and even enjoys seeing a good, venomous scrap where a wronged party -- or a more muscular teammate of his -- is taking the required pound of flesh from the perpetrator of a dirty hit or a spear or a high stick. But then the combatants have to go.
On the other hand, the staged, pre-meditated fight, off a faceoff -- or three of them in a row, as in Vancouver-Dallas last week -- is ridiculous, and the league should be embarrassed. Except the league is embarrass-proof.
So the department of player safety didn’t quite empty a fire extinguisher to put out a burning match -- one game for Hansen is like saying “Well, we had to do something” -- though it continues to respond to actual purposeful head blows with a nudge and a wink.
But did Hansen even deserve a slap on the wrist? Possibly. No more than that.
He is a terrific player, honest, tenacious, fast as blazes, all good things. He is also Danish, which isn’t really a defence, except that there have been so few truly murderous Danes since Hamlet killed Uncle Claudius.
But Hansen does occasionally get so focussed on the immediate object of his desire, he forgets all else.
Remember when he cross-checked the referee in San Jose earlier this season when he was trying to get at Sharks’ Ryane Clowe off a centre-ice faceoff? The act didn’t even register with him. He wanted Clowe. The ref was somebody in the way.
So it was with the puck Jonathan Toews lofted into the air toward Hossa. Like a dog taunted by a biscuit dangling from a string, Hansen saw it, he wanted it, and the Chicago star was going to field it first. This could not be.
Did the crime equal the punishment? Was there even a crime?
Maybe and maybe. Or perhaps the only real lesson here is: be especially careful when handling eggs.
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