Say what you will about the National Hockey League taking the “fun” out of hockey (and turning it into the fiasco that is the No Fun League, er, excuse me, the National Football League), it is an admirable goal to make a game played on a low-friction surface by over-sized men wearing body armor, carrying a potential weapon, firing a frozen hunk of rubber at one another a little safer. The game is played by larger, faster, more specialized humans than when it was invented and the rules should probably reflect that while leaving the spirit of the game intact.
It’s not perfect, to be sure. The litany of complaints could be a War and Peace sized novel and those will probably never cease. Possible legit plays are over-scrutinized and, as was seen over the weekend during the Capitals-Flyers games patently wrong actions are left un-reviewed because they fall beyond even the greyest level of the law. Despite the fact the Flyers goal-thug Ray Emery probably should be suspended for his antics by leaving the crease, skating cross-ice past the attempts to coral him by the refs, charging the opposing goalie at full speed and beginning to fight him even though the Caps young net-minder didn’t sanction the fight with initial retaliation, because the rule book doesn’t explicitly ban those actions through the reviewal process for suspensions Emery gets a psuedo free pass (he, and his team, were penalized heavily during the game itself)
The non-suspension though brought up a good point about suspensions themselves by Bettman, in that they are up this year over last, as noted from this pullquote:
Bettman also addressed the rise in player suspensions this season across the league. In one month, the NHL Department of Player Safety has suspended four players for a total of 22 games for illegal hits. Bettman called the rise in suspensions and rule changes an attempt at “effectuating a change” in how the game is played across the NHL.
This begs the question, “Did Bettman even look at where many of those suspension originate in making the statement?”
It doesn’t take long to determine the culprit of the rise and it is the Buffalo Sabres.
In total there are 44 games lost to suspension, across 10 suspensions handed out so far. 22 of those games are to four players for illegal hits to the head. The other penalties are boarding/charging and the one 3 games for elbowing by Brad Stuart.
You could make the argument that all 44 games to each of the 10 players actually represents an illegal hit in some regard. After all, that elbow by Stuart resulted in a concussion.
Over 38% of the total games lost are to the Buffalo Sabres, and of just the illegal “hits to the head” it’s a more astonishing 72% of games lost belong to Buffalo.
Of the total players suspended, 20% of them were Sabres, no other team has multiple infractions this year, and more specifically there were four hit to the head suspensions, 50% of which were committed by Buffalo.
In the regular season the league has collected around $549,700 from suspended players and an additional about $22,250 from non-suspension fines for a total of $571,962.80. Buffalo’s take on this is $179,262 which is 31.35% of the total.
And these are the culprits:
Patrick Kaleta 10 games hit to the head
John Scott 7 games hit to the head
It doesn’t take a very skilled mathematician to pull out these two goons from the stats and see that the suspensions are well within the normally accepted tolerance of past years.
Furthermore, although in a simple glance at in-game penalization might lead you to believe Philadelphia are the worst, this is a bit skewed due to the aforementioned Caps-Flyers game that produced 99 minutes of total penalties to Philly (and another 63 to the Caps). Strip that out, along with putting aside typical aggregate penalty stats (Total Penalties, Total Penalty Minutes, Penalties/Game, ManDownMinutes/Game) and look at the penalties more granular and you see this:
14 Major Penalties for Buffalo, leads the league
1 Match Misconduct for Buffalo, leads the league
Individually, the Sabres have the league leader in assessed majors and a second rounding out the top ten while the #3 guy of assessed minors is also from Buffalo. Although they’ve managed to go without misconduct penalties, as you see, they have the only match misconduct in the league.
When you further dig into the numbers, the players with their penalties aren’t low usage agitator guys you dump out for a couple of well timed shifts either as the 13th forward, these are enforcers playing actual 4th line level minutes per game in their roles:
John Scott averages 7 shifts and 5:00 TOI
Patrick Kaleta 12 shifts and 8:20 TOI
Cody McCormick 11 shifts and 7:25 TOI
Plus a couple of heavy hitters in Wheeler and Myers on D racking up an average of 17 shifts in excess of 18 minutes of ice time, representing a type of play not as the 7th D-man on for a shift or two of agitation but as full-time tough guys.
This is systemic of the Buffalo system right now and not necessarily reflective of the league itself … and these numbers don’t even include the pre-seasons fiasco that earned Buffalo head coach Ron Rolston a $10,000 fine for his general “play selection” infractions then.
Plus, you know, if that blowhard Don Cherry is sticking up for these guys and defending their actions then they absolutely must be in the wrong for how they’ve acted.
What is probably more disconcerting is not the suspension and fine numbers (even taking into account what we hope is Buffalo’s high-water mark of baffoonery) it is the number of concussions and related head injuries so far in this young season
According to several articles citing Dr. Michael Cuisimano’s research team conclusions in the first half a month of play, representing 136 games (through Oct 23), concussions were up 30%. In any given 100 game span the league averages about 5.2 head injuries (or in this case, 7 per 126) making the current season’s actual mark of 10 several ticks up. And more notably, the majority of these were without supplemental penalties and some of them were without meaningful on-ice penalties, which can be interpreted in one way that the extra rule-book work has not necessarily made the situation better.
Here’s what’s been sustained so far:
Oct. 1: George Parros, Montreal, concussion sustained during fight with Colton Orr. Fighting penalties were assessed.
Oct. 4: Roman Josi, Nashville, initially listed as an upper-body injury, was concussed by controversial hit from Steve Downie who received a minor penalty and no supplimental.
Oct. 8: Rick Nash, New York Rangers, concussed by an elbow from Brad Stuart, San Jose. Stuart got a three-game suspension.
Oct. 13: Ryan Clowe, New Jersey, on injured reserve listed as head injury (from an elbow to the head). Trouba was assessed the penalty with no supplemental.
Oct. 14: Keith Ballard, Minnesota (upper body) was hit in the face with a puck.
Oct. 15: Dan Boyle, San Jose, pushed face first into dasher board by Maxim Lapierre Boyle on injured reserve with head injury. Lapierre got five-suspension.
Oct. 17: Niklas Kronwall Detroit, concussion after being boarded by Cody McLeod, Colorado. McLeod got a five-game suspension.
Oct. 19: Danny Briere, Montreal, concussion after hit to the head from Nystrom, there was no supplemental
Oct. 19: Lubomir Visnovsky of the Islanders, on injured reserve with concussion after hit from Riley Nash
Oct. 20: Dustin Penner, Anaheim, concussion after a high hit by Ryan Garbutt.
And, what’s more, the current number of unavailable players raises this further. It includes:
Oct. 24: Boston’s Loui Eriksson sidelined indefinitely with a concussion after the hit by Buffalo’s Scott resulting in the suspension.
Oct. 27: Edmonton’s David Perron is out indefinitely pending the results of an MRI for an injury to the neck/head. He previously suffered a concussion in 2011.
Oct. 27: Anaheim’s Saku Koivu is out with an undisclosed head injury after taking an elbow to the face and being knocked unconscious by Dubinsky who was ejected on the play (but not supplemental disciplined). Some articles on NHL.com mention it being a concussion or concussion-like symptoms.
Oct. 29: Teemu Salanne took a stick to the face from Schenn resulting in 40 stitches and will miss about 2 weeks post oral-surgery with no other injury noted. The play didn’t result in a penalty.
Oct. 30: Nashville’s Matt Hendricks is laid out by Morris on a clean check. Hendricks sustained an upper body injury which looked to be a head injury in the footage of the hit.
Nov. 2: Philadelphia’s Steve Downie concussed during a fight while Vincent Lecalavier sustained facial lascerations from another fight during the same game against Washington.
Nov. 2: New Jersey’s John Merrill sustained facial lascerations after taking a puck to the face.
Nov. 3: Ottawa’s goalie Craig Anderson is day-to-day with an undisclosed head/neck injury from a collision from Nichushkin
Detroit’s back-up goalie Jonas Gustavsson is also day-to-day with an undisclosed head/neck injury
In using a similar data set, according to mangameslost.com, of the 27 reporting teams for injuries through the 24th, there’s been 609 man games lost due to injury (not including unlisted injury but still scratched as well as three teams who do not report data – San Jose, Colorado & Vancouver) and 1146 total for any reason observed by the site for all 30 teams. These seem to be trending slightly ahead of the historical data for a similar time frame of years past.
That’s not to take anything away from the rules themselves or from the infractions by Buffalo. It’s more just to point out there’s still a long way to go at mitigating the damaging impact even if the league does reign in some of the individual head hunters out there.