Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hit(s) Analysis: Hanzal and Doan

We have an opportunity here to explain to hockey fans around the world what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to hits along the boards. I think it's a particularly unique opportunity because both hits were committed by two players of the same team, in two different periods of the same game. In last night's Western Conference final game between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings, an incident occu...wait a damned minute here. Son of a bitch I went into Brendan Shanahan mode!

In the 2nd period, Shane Doan checked Trevor Lewis into the boards, seemingly from behind. Lewis was hurt on the play, with blood coming from his nose after the hit. Doan was assessed a 5 minute game misconduct penalty for boarding. The following period, Martin Hanzal checked Dustin Brown into the boards, again seemingly from behind. Brown was hurt on the play, laying on the ice after the hit. Both players returned to the game, so until they start showing concussion symptoms, it would appear neither play suffered serious injury.

It was announced today on that Martin Hanzal will be facing a disciplinary hearing for his hit, and Shane Doan would not. Having watched the footage of both hits, I think Hanzal deserves supplemental discipline and Doan does not. And this is coming from someone who thinks that Shane Doan is a jerkass player approaching Pronger like levels. Okay, I apologize for that remark. I shouldn't say things I don't mean, and much like calling a woman the C-word, you never want to compare someone to Chris Pronger unless you really truly mean it and they really truly deserve it.

If you watch the two hits, the point of impact may be the same - one player checks another player in the back - and the location on the ice where the hit occurred is mostly the same - along/into the boards (although different area of the ice), there are some very important differences between the two hits that cause them to be drastically different. Before we look at the hits I want to say this too: I bash the refs a lot for bad calls. It helps me vent and because I believe that holding people accountable for their mistakes can help them to become better at what they do and avoid future mistakes. However, the 5 minute game misconduct penalties to both Doan and Hanzal were completely, 100% correct. Regardless of what the league does, and whether they get it right or wrong, the refs made the calls on the ice right. Let's go to the tape:

 The Doan Hit: First off, I should note that Doan has been suspended before. He got a 3 game suspension for elbowing Jamie Benn in the head. He got a 3 game suspension for hitting Dan Sexton in the head. Plus he was fined once for boarding - the same penalty he was kicked out for last night. 

But watch the hit on Lewis. At the 43-44 second mark on the video I embedded, you can clearly see Doan coming in to hit Lewis, and you can clearly see Lewis is facing Doan with his back to the boards. 1 second later in the video, the hit begins. So literally over the span of 1-2 seconds, Doan commits to and delivers the hit. And in that same time span, Lewis turns his back to Doan, bending over to play the puck, and placing himself in a very dangerous and vulnerable position. At the speed the NHL is played at, with the all the extra intensity of the playoffs, it's hard to imagine that Doan could have completely avoided the hit in the 1-2 seconds that Lewis changed his body position.

You could argue that Doan should have pulled up a bit anyways, because even face to face that hit could have been dangerous. And maybe Doan had time to pull up a bit anyway. But I would argue that Shane Doan couldn't have completely avoided that hit, and minimizing the outcome would have been very difficult. If Doan receives supplementary discipline, I think anything more than 1 game would be excessive. Maybe his disciplinary history earns him more, but really, I think the league should leave it as the ruling on the ice.

The Hanzal Calamity: Just like with Doan, let's talk historical factors. To my knowledge and my Google search, Martin Hanzal has never been fined or suspended in the course of his NHL career.

When you watch the video, this one doesn't really need a ton of discussion. These are the types of hits the the NHL is trying to get rid of. Even those this isn't an icing play, these are the types of hits that are causing the NHL to move towards a hybrid icing rule. It's why coughing on a player who goes to touch an icing can get you a trip to the penalty box.

There are any number of ways that Hanzal can make a play here that doesn't result in a player getting hurt and him getting kicked out of the game. All it requires is some discipline and self control. He just has to pull up a bit and not go so fast. Let Brown brace himself for a hit he's probably assuming is coming. Instead of hitting Brown at all, Hanzal could simply try to make a play on the puck. He doesn't have to do what he did, and he had every opportunity to avoid it. It was just stupid.

In fact, let's compare this to a near identical play that we Wings fans know about: Henrik Zetterberg's game misconduct

The difference between Zetterberg's hit and Hanzal's hit are #1: Zetterberg was not going nearly as fast as Hanzal was #2: Zetterberg wasn't trying to send anyone's face through the glass #3: The other player on the Zetterberg hit lost his footing and crashed harshly into the boards. Zetterberg had little, if anything, to do with the "hit".

The Zetterberg hit and the Doan hit are what I would call "Hockey Plays Gone Awry". They are attempts by players to make normal, legitimate hockey plays and other factors cause things to go awry and bad things happen. Sometimes, when things happen in real time, they look worse than they are, and you have to try to keep players within the appropriate bounds of behaviors. Which is why I was frustrated, but understanding, of Zetterberg's misconduct penalty. I understand and agree with Doan and Hanzal being kicked out. But Hanzal was a reckless and dangerous play, so he needs to be sat. I would expect a 2-3 game suspension for Hanzal. I know it's the playoffs, and anything more than a 1 game suspension can be seen as ridiculous on anyone who isn't Raffi Torres. Maybe a 1-2 prediction would be better considering Hanzal's clean record. 

Fuck it. 1-3 game prediction. 

So fans and players alike, take heed. Yes, it is easy for you try to make a clean play and have things get out of control and end poorly. And yes, when that happens, you may be held accountable for it. But it is infinitely better than skating around recklessly without a care for player safety. 

And you know what, as someone who is still angry about Shanahan not suspending Shea Weber, I also believe people do not give Shanahan enough credit. Take the three hits I've highlighted in this post, and you can very clearly see how three very similar hits are also very, very different as soon as you look at the fine points. It isn't simply a matter of "Guy A checked Guy B from behind into the boards", and if you cannot or are simply unwilling to consider those details, then don't comment. Don't rage when Shanahan does or doesn't suspend someone simply because you don't understand the differences.

Save your rage for when he monstrously screws up. Like he did with Weber. 

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