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Monday, March 15, 2010

Colin Campbell Suspends Ovechkin For Games Against His Son, Hurricanes

Alexander Ovechkin has been suspended for two games for a hit on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell on Sunday.  The aftermath of the hit was that Campbell suffered a broken collarbone, at least one broken rib, and reportedly a mild concussion.  The actual hit?

A push in the side from a forechecking Ovechkin that sent Campbell awkwardly into the boards after Campbell toepicked and tipped over. You can see Ovechkin's hands leaving Campbell's side and shoulder, and you can clearly see Campbell's numbers, which means Ovechkin's hands weren't there. There is no stickwork, there is no hit to the head or back, there is no particular violence associated with the contact, and Campbell had just released the puck, so Ovechkin did not make full contact. The violence occurred when Campbell hit the boards after losing his balance, and by the letter of the law, he was responsible for not putting himself in harm's way, too, which takes some of the blame off Ovechkin.
NHL Rule 42 - Boarding:
42.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of 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 (or goalkeeper) applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable position and if so, he must avoid the contact. However, there is also a responsibility on the player with the puck to avoid placing himself in a dangerous and vulnerable position. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.

 42.2 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 or goalkeeper guilty of boarding an opponent.

42.3 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 or goalkeeper guilty of boarding an opponent (see 42.5).

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

42.5 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.

By the letter of the law, Ovechkin should have received a five-minute major penalty.  The hit Ovechkin made was not particularly severe, but Campbell was injured.  It was not a deliberate attempt to injure, otherwise Ovechkin could have ridden him into the boards, so a match penalty was not warranted.  The play did not result in an obvious injury to the face, but if the officials deemed Campbell had suffered a concussion, then the Game Misconduct penalty was warranted.  That means Ovechkin missed almost an entire hockey game and the Blackhawks got five minutes of all-you-can-score powerplay, but the NHL deemed that was not severe enough.

What's going on behind the scenes?  NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell ruled that it was a "reckless" hit by Ovechkin.  It's probably also reckless for a father to let a guy like that play against his son in the next game, right?  Oh, that's right, Gregory Campbell's Florida Panthers are the next team up for the Capitals.  This happened the last time he suspended Ovechkin, too.  The Capitals' next game on December 3rd was against the Florida Panthers.  If that isn't outright bias, I don't know what is.  I don't care any more if Campbell doesn't make the decisions in games where his son is affected, if the man in that chair does not make all the calls, then they are not consistent and he's not doing his job.  Colin Campbell made a biased decision to suspend Ovechkin, and he should have left that job the first day his son entered the NHL.

To be sure, Brian Campbell suffered a severe injury and he will miss a significant amount of time.  I applaud the NHL for taking the severity of an injury into consideration when they hand down punishment, but in this case it is not warranted for a regular hockey hit turned bad.  Ovechkin was chasing down the puck, not the player, which is a part of hockey called forechecking.  What if David Steckel had made a similar hit on a player when he was chasing down the icing that led to the Eric Fehr goal?  Would he have been suspended?  Doubtful. You want NHL players to skate slower?  I didn't think so.

How can Ovechkin be suspended when hits like these don't lead to suspension?

That shove in the back happens all the time during NHL games, Campbell just blew a tire.  Brooks Laich even made that same push in that same game and hasn't been suspended for it. 

The bottom line here is that the suspension is excessive.  A star player is suspended while a goon like Matt Cooke walks free, and there was a huge difference in the intent, but not in their history of suspensions.  If you watch Ovechkin's other "ejectable" offenses this season, you'll see another shoulder-check on Patrick Kaleta, who got himself into trouble for the same hit the next game, and an attempted shoulder-check on Tim Gleason in which Ovechkin hurt himself and Gleason not only returned to game action but got himself ejected later. 

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