Michal Rozsival's game misconduct shows NHL is concerned with wrong aspect of hits
Michal Rozsival got ejected from a game because a clean hit resulted in an injury. That is wrong.
There wasn't a whole lot that went right for the Chicago Blackhawks during Sunday's NHL Stadium Series game against the Minnesota Wild.
Their offense was stifled by the Minnesota blue line, while its own defensive corps struggled most of the afternoon. They also played the final 25 minutes with five defenseman after Michal Rozsival was given a game misconduct for a hit on Minnesota forward Jason Zucker:
Oh man, Zucker hit his head pretty hard on the ice pic.twitter.com/4ZeNCdpugR— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) February 21, 2016
Hit on Zucker at full speed https://t.co/FRvewqLR4h— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) February 21, 2016
I wrote the following in the recap:
Truthfully, I do not see anything wrong with that hit, for all of the reasons mentioned in that final tweet. Watching the hit, Zucker changes his head position prior to the hit. It shouldn't result in a suspension, but it also shouldn't have resulted in a game misconduct. Honestly, I don't think it would've been a penalty at all if not for the injury to Zucker -- neither referee had their arm up until Zucker stayed down.
It's clear when watching the hit that while Zucker's head does end up being the principle point of contact, Zucker puts himself in a vulnerable position when he ducks his head to brace for the hit. Rozsival does not leave his feet, has his elbow tucked and is leading with his shoulder. There is zero intent to injure on this play -- it is a clean hit through and through.
It's also clear when watching the play that neither referee was intent on calling a penalty on the play until they realized Zucker was hurt and laying on the ice. The referee behind the play ends up calling the penalty, but didn't put his arm up and begin skating toward Rozsival until Zucker was clearly injured. It's also worth noting Zucker hit his head on the ice quite hard as well, so it's possible the hit itself did not result in Zucker's injury.
The call for interference on Rozsival is questionable. The puck wasn't in the vicinity, and Zucker didn't have possession. If the penalty ended up being a standard two-minute minor, we're talking about an close call in which the referee erred on the side of safety and caution, which would be a good thing. But the fact the penalty was upgraded to a five-minute major and a subsequent game misconduct is the product of nothing short of Zucker's injury.
However, the harsh penalty issued to Rozsival as a result of this play is laughable when you consider last Wednesday, Chicago forward Artemi Panarin was the victim of a cheap slash from the New York Rangers' Keith Yandle:
In the case of Yandle's slash, Panarin is skating casually toward an empty net to ice a game, with no reason to believe that the trailing defenseman is going to take a two-handed hack at his ankles. Yandle proceeds to take said two-handed hack, sending Panarin to the ice and into the boards. Panarin got back to his feet quickly and Yandle was not penalized.
To compare: Rozsival laid a clean hit on a player who clearly has time to brace himself for the hit and does so; Zucker puts himself in a vulnerable position prior to the hit; the hit results in an apparently serious injury; Rozsival is ejected from the game. Yandle hit Panarin with a deliberate, illegal two-handed slash to the ankles; Panarin did not make himself vulnerable; Panarin was not injured; Yandle was not penalized.
This is entirely backwards. A legal hit should not be punished with a game misconduct, and even if you want to make the argument the interference call was warranted, the game misconduct remains a huge overreaction by the officials. Conversely, a clearly intentional illegal play should absolutely be punished to the fullest extent, not allowed to slide without even a slap on the wrist.
The reason these hits are on opposite ends of the spectrum, though, is the NHL is clearly less interested in the manner of the hit and more interested in its result. This is nothing new. We have been seeing longer suspensions for hits that result injuries for years now.
However, it doesn't make it any less wrong. Clean hits are not dirtier because they result injury, and dirty hits are not cleaner because they don't. Escalating punishment because a hit results in injury is silly, and creates a dangerous precedent for situations like the one Rozsival finds himself in now.
If the goal of escalating supplementary discipline on hits that lead to injury is to prevent hits that lead to injury, deliberate plays like Yandle's slash, that are more likely to end in injury than not, must result in supplementary discipline as well. Instead, Yandle faced no punishment, and Rozsival did not either but missed the final 25 minutes for an entirely clean hit solely because it resulted in injury. This is wrong, and the NHL needs to change this trend soon.
Adam Hess is a staff writer at Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @_adamhess.