Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pac Said, "Keep Ya Head Up"

[Updated Video: features both angles and a brief replay of the Hudler elbow]

Alright, Arthur. You saw it, I saw it and we can both hear the incessant griping out of Detroit, "the dirty Ducks are at it again, blah, blah, blah." I would like to point out that the first penalty called in the game was on one Jiri Hudler for a dirty elbow on Francois Beauchemin. There were a lot of things that went into Brown's hit on Hudler. I don't think it was dangerous, and I'm sure I'll get my chance to explain, but why don't you lay it down for everyone and give a level perception of what happened when Brown knocked some sense-- sorry --knocked down Hudler?

Something tells me Joe will have a few comments for this post.

So, here's what happened. Believe it or not, the Red Wings broke discipline first in this game. At 8:00 of the 1st, Jiri Hudler elbowed Francois Beauchemin. I'd love to tell you more about the play, but I didn't see it. It happened along the nearside (to the camera) boards, and Versus went to a commercial when the whistle blew. Then when they came back, they didn't show a replay or describe the play at all. The only thing that would lead me to believe that it was a particularly hard elbow is the fact that they showed Beauchemin complaining to the refs, his helmet still half-off of his head as he got up. (UPDATE: The new YouTube clip briefly shows the elbow by Hudler. It's a blatant elbow to the head. Not injurious, but probably retaliation worthy).

Fast forward 3:30, and Jiri Hudler is handling the puck just outside of his zone. He tries to make a quick play, backhanding it off the boards and turning low. Mike Brown is in Detroit's zone, and puts Hudler in the train tracks right before he touches the puck. Hudler releases the puck along the boards, and we hear the appropriate number of beats that would require a player to at least let up if he's still going to execute the check. Brown charges full steam ahead, and finishes the hit with his shoulder. He catches Hudler flush, and the hit is made even more dangerous by the fact that Hudler was turning his body to skate toward Brown as contact was made. Hudler was twisting one way, and then violently twisted back onto the ice like one of those "Hit Stick" checks in NHL 09. Hudler was cut either by the ice or his visor when his head hit the ground, leaving a pool of blood. He got up gingerly, opening and closing his hands (I don't know what that's medically relevant of, but it caused me to say, "DAYUMN!").

Now, if you ask me for my unbiased hockey analysis? I think that it's a retaliation play made worse by the fact that the offensive player had his head down. If Corey Perry got blindsided with a late shoulder check to the head after he elbowed Claude Giroux, I wouldn't call it a dirty play, any more than any retaliation or the initial cheapshots and elbows that breed them are dirty plays.

Is it illegal or suspension worthy? See, this part I love. The Hockey Central crew on Versus both agreed that the play is a terrible and suspension-worthy offense. But then I read the crew over at Hockey Night in Canada agreed it was a clean hit, and decided to move on with the broadcast without discussing it. Apparently, the only broadcast to express some disagreement was TSN, where Bob McKenzie reiterated a point he explored in an article he wrote this week, where he points out that a shoulder blindside to the head is NOT an illegal hit in the books. Dirty hit? Yes. Should be excised from the sport? Yes. But does the NHL say you can never put your shoulder into a guy's head? No.

But here's the thing. It's been legal for so long that I don't think of it as dirty. When Scott Stevens took Paul Kariya out in the Stanley Cup Finals in '03, it was a blindside shoulder check to the head that was a beat or two late. He even leaned into it with his elbow. I didn't get up and scream that it was dirty, even though I was pretty sure Paul was dead (I mean, it was like his 6th concussion, 2nd major one). So, maybe I'm insensitive, but I don't care how BADLY you were hurt, if the reason that you were hurt so badly and were unable to protect yourself is that you made a play with your head down.

I couldn't agree more.

Actually, I'm furious for a different reason. Keith Jones is over in the Versus booth, crying like it was his kid who got it. He was mad like someone took his lunch money, or tried to date his daughter without bringing a condom. There's nothing more frustrating in Hockey than when good hits get called dirty because someone gets hurt. Look, the hit on Paul in 2003 pissed me off, but just like Barry said, he kept his shoulder in and then followed through. This hit wouldn't have been a problem if it wasn't for Hudler deciding to pirouette at center ice after getting rid of the puck. Someone on his team should have told him.

Look, Brown was barely on the tracks. He had stopped striding well before he went after Hudler. He is a big dude, who can generate some speed very quickly, but he kept his arms in and he only hits Hudler with the follow through. While I hear Detroit fans crying already about "if it was Getzlaf you'd want a suspension." All I can say is my guys know that if you go around the neutral zone with your head down, somebody is going to drop you.

Moreover, Hudler coming back like he did leads me to believe that the only thing that was really wrong with him was that he got cut. Since when is a hockey player getting cut such a tragedy? If all that happened was that he got cut, and he's not hurt then the hit is clean. There should be no suspension. We lost our second-best PK forward for the first game of the series, and Detroit scored 2 goals as a result. I don't know what else to say, really. Yes, the hit looks bad, but only if you don't know what you're doing. There's less than a second and a half from when Hudler gets rid of the puck and when Brown hits him, is that time enough to pull up? Sure. But if Brown is zeroed in, he's not moving. He kept his shoulders in, didn't lead with the elbow and followed through.

More than anything, I'm angry about how one bad thing seems to snowball on us. Pronger loses his head a few times, and all of the sudden the entire Ducks organization is dirty. Detroit was doing the same things we were, but for some odd reason, being from California means we don't know how to play real hockey. Wake up!!! We won the cup. We have the most postseason series victories since 2003, and we didn't accidentally upset San Jose. The refs did a great job of calling this game down the middle. I don't really disagree with the Interference call although I think a double minor would have been much more appropriate, unfortunately, there's no such call, but that's another topic. But if Brown gets suspended for this, it's just another example of how the league doesn't care about hockey in California, and is more focused on protecting its cold weather franchises.

Okay, but you agree that it was a 5-minute Major for Interference? Rulebook (56.4 and 56.5) reads that any interference with a degree of violence that results in an injury should result in a Major for Interference and a Game Misconduct. Clearly, Brown knew he was getting there a beat late, and could be called for Interference. If the guy gets injured, regardless of whether Brown meant to injure him or not, he knew he could get called. So, it's gotta be a 5-minute Major for Interference, right?

I don't think this is a 5-minute Major, and that's a problem with the rule. I know we want to stop hits to the head, but the referees need the power of discretion. I do think you can call the penalty. It's definitely an Interference call, and he did draw blood. But it should be a double Minor, not a Major. Just like with high sticking: if blood is drawn, the penalty is 4 minutes instead of 2. I'm not saying there should be an automatic 4 minutes every time someone draws blood, just that when it comes to hits to the head, a more effective tiered system is needed. With high sticking the refs don't make the decision; here they should.

But, let's take a closer look at what happened. The hit was a second late. This isn't Donald Brashear peeling off from a change to crack some guy who hasn't touched the puck for 4 seconds. This is a guy who had the puck carrier in his sights and tried to separate the carrier from the puck. Even during coverage, no one observed it was a bad hit until there was blood. That, to me, means it's not a dirty play. If it's not dirty, and there's no intent to injure, which is not the same as playing physical, then the 5-minute Major and Game Misconduct shouldn't come into play. There was no Boarding. No bad stick work. Nothing. Majors should be reserved for penalties that are malicious and seek to injure. This was neither.

I'm okay with calling this a penalty, and given the rules, I guess the refs had no choice but to call the Major. However, this rule needs to be reevaluated. I'm just not in favor of something like Interference being an all or nothing penalty. There needs to be a way for the refs to consider the degree of injury and whether or not it was directly caused by the hit. I'm in favor of rules that protect players, but I'm more in favor of players protecting players and refs being able to call the game that is in front of them.


  1. When the hit first happened, no one could be sure what exactly the damage was. Judging by the ferocity of the hit and the blood and the way Hudler was kinda like "oh shit, what the hell is wrong with my head" (rather similar to Betts the other day, after Brashear tried to kill him), I was really afraid that Brown had broken Hudler's orbital, and that would knock him out of the playoffs. His visor might have been what cut him, but it probably also is what saved him from getting a broken orbital. The idea that one of our best young players has been knocked out of the playoffs by a dirty hit had me absolutely lit.

    As for my few of the hit: Hudler can't be blamed for not seeing him, and he wasn't exactly "admiring" his pass as many have said. He chipped the puck forward to a teammate in a somewhat awkward manner. He was turning around, orienting his body to face towards the ANA end, and watching to see how the play developed. It wasn't exactly a tape-to-tape pass, so its not like he knew he had to join the rush. He's turning his body, and is watching to see if he needs to keep skating forward to join a rush, or pinch down towards the boards to take a defensive responsibility, if the Duck that was near the pass got it instead. He's turning and assessing the play in front of him, to decide what the proper course of action is.

    Brown came from behind him, and Hudler is looking up ice, to determine if he needs to go on offense or pick up a defensive responsibility. Browns comes from behind, and specifically turns into Hudler. At this point, he's specifically engaging a player without the puck. If he just bumps Hudler hard while standing up, using his shoulder/arm/chest at his side, then this is just fine. He sends the message to Hudler that you can't go anywhere on this rink without me knocking you down. Probably no penalty on the play, no one thinks much of it, and life goes on. Maybe borderline for interference, thats a judgement call for the ref, and would mostly depend on the result of the pass or not. If ANA got the pass, its probably a penalty because Brown takes out a defender. Regardless, not a big deal.

    The problem is that Brown intentionally brings the shoulder and arm up. There is no reason whatsoever that he couldn't have just hit Hudler hard with a standing-up arm-to-side shoulder, and it would've been clean, but it still could've been a hard hit. He specifically brought the arm up, to hit Hudler high, who was partially bent down. This, combined with the coming from behind and specifically moving to hit Hudler is what really does it for me. He was already walking the line pretty closely, if he just hits him hard with a stand-up arm-in shoulder. Specifically going up high on a guy crosses that line pretty clearly. Like I said, if it wasn't for his visor, its quite possible that Hudler gets a broken orbital or nose out of the deal.

    I'm thinking it should've been about a 2 game suspension. That kind of hit is exactly what a lot of people want to get out of the game. Leaving your feet to make a hit is supposed to be illegal (though rarely called) because it promotes shots to the head. The whole method of throwing that arm, to help drive and followthrough with your shoulder through a guys head is exactly the same thing, and ought to be eliminated as well. Keep that elbow in against your ribs when you make your hit, and you're golden. Separate that arm from the body, and you're getting into headhunting territory. It was a dirty play.

    As for the technicalities of the call itself, specifically the 5 min interference call.. I don't understand the need for it. To me, the Brown call was easy. Call it a Match penalty. Match penalties are given out for very select things, most prominently, intent to injure. Call it what it was, an intent to injure penalty (match). A Match penalty is automatic 5:00 major, 10:00 game misconduct, and automatic meeting with the league disciplinary group to determine if a suspension is warranted. Match penalties are rarely called, which I don't really understand, but I think it was the clear call here. I don't see why the NHL feels the need to discriminate between intent to injure someone when interfering with them, and intent to injure by stabbing them with a skate. Its just intention to injure someone, the end, call it like it is. In the end, it would've all been the same result anyways, and eliminates the technical aspect of what to call the penalty.

  2. Also, what do you guys think of the layout on the main CLS page now? I like it a lot better than the current one thats on here, especially since we both seem to post long-ish things. Should we get that template running over here?

    Also, I always figured that a blog would have like a private little forum in it, so that the admins and stuff could easily discuss such things. That such a thing doesnt exist is weird, I think.

  3. Hmmmm, Joe, you might be on to something with that. I guess if nothing else we could do instant messaging?

  4. ARTHUR:
    See, I think the hit was a clean shoulder to the head. From the front angle of the video, it looks like Brown moves his arm through the hit, but if you look at the rear camera angle, you can tell that Brown follows through cleanly, and then swings his arm. He gets Hudler in the head because Hudler is crouching into his turn. Don't get me wrong, though. He knows he's going to get him in the head a beat before the hit happens. But it's all shoulder, which would have just stood Hudler up, if he wasn't turning toward center ice.

    I have to compare this to the Scott Stevens hit on Kariya in '03 because there was a time when this would have been a clean open ice hit, and I think that's why the HNIC guys refused to comment. SO many of Scott Stevens hits looked exactly like this. Stevens always hit you laterally or diagonally, where you couldn't see him, and it was often a beat or two late. And to me that was always clean.

    BUT I see where Hudler's coming from because rough open ice hits were outlawed in 2007 when the NHL instituted this 5 Min Major for Interference. Yes, he elbowed a guy, but if he plays textbook hockey, he shouldn't have to worry that he's out there against the 4th line. He should be able to make the little backhand move and turn he made, as long as he gets rid of the puck in a timely manner. Then again, he knows he's playing a team that will retaliate.

    On the layout, I like Minima. We use one of the Minimas on our blog. Feel free to play with the layout, Joe. And you can email us if you ever want to talk about the blog. O'brien cc'd us on that email about exploring the studio space.

  5. ARTHUR:
    Although, if I was going to go Old School. Not just 6 years ago, but 26 years ago, I would say what Scott whatever-his-name-is was hinting to at the TSN panel discussion. If you elbow a guy in the head, you don't go out on the next shift, peer into your zone, and spot a fourth line forward then make a backhand move and turn your head away from him.

    That's old school Ted Green-Wayne Maki days though. Way before there was the Major for Interference. Oh, and Joe, 56.4 opens the door for the Major for Interference and 56.5 opens the door for the Game Misconduct. It's circuitous, but the NHL wanted to be sure it could punish guys for a Scott Stevens type hit IF there was an injury, regardless of intent to injure. That's why McKenzie points out, similar hit in the Vancouver game, hard shoulder to the head, but no injury, so not even a penalty call.

  6. I can't see the video being at work right now, but the replay I kept seeing on Versus (from a corner near the ANA end, the puck is coming towards the camera after Hudler's pass), it sure looked an awful lot like Brown turned, crouched a little bit, and then stood up, bringing his arms up with him, as he hit Hudler. I do believe that he got him with the shoulder, but the arms-away-from body thing is a pretty good indicator of intent to go high with the hit, usually through the head. That intention to go high, when he didn't need to, combined with coming from behind is what does it for me. If he just stands up and sets his weight and hits Hudler, arm against his side, he'd knock Hudler down pretty stiffly. He intentionally went for the head, and thats where I have a problem with it.

    I actually think that the arm-against-the-body ought to generally be the main focus for the league on headshots, and specifically as it pertains to making any sort of rules about them. Its easy enough to see, and whenever that arm comes up, its to generate upward force. Obviously, if you're hitting someone and trying to generate upward force, you're tying to hit them in the head, because there's not anywhere else to hit when you're hitting upwards from your shoulder. Keep the elbow in to your own ribs, and you should mostly be ok. You can still deliver a harsh check with the arm in to your body. It doesn't take away any from the physicality of the game, only the headhunting aspect of hitting. Its not perfect, as someone Pronger or Chara's size with the arm in will still be able to pop you in the head with the shoulder, but it will help dramatically, and frankly, no rule will be able to stop every type of headshot or somehow account for people at each end of the scale, from St. Louis to Chara.

  7. Well, the arm was into the body, it just looks strange from the front angle. That's why those freeze frames they had up on BoC were from the rear angle. Very clean shoulder hit. Cleaner than the Stevens hit on Kariya if you ask me.

    My main problem is the same problem McKenzie has. Shoulder to the head is NOT illegal. NHL likes that hit, and doesn't want to discourage players from making it. They don't think intending to drive your shoulder into a guy's head is a bad play. That's why they can't dish a match penalty on it. There would be no intent to injure. The only thing they're willing to do is create this IF there's an injury game misconduct. Either make it illegal, and force players to learn to hip check effectively or let them play.

  8. As for old guys screaming about "in my day, some no name goon would've broken your legs with his stick for sneering at our star player"... Those old guys can jump off a bridge. There's a reason why stupid people with stupid opinions like that do not get my viewship, either on TV or online. If they really think their careers (and more than that, their quality of life after the game) were enhanced by people attempting to break other people's legs, then they're just plain stupid. Especially considering the speed at which the game is played now, the armor every player wears that can just as easily be a weapon, and the strength of these athletes now... It's easy to say "oh, these kids are wimps, I would've broke his leg with my stick for that", when you're 60 and you know no one is going to call you out on it. Very very few of the guys who played in the "good ol' days" could even get keep up with most players now. Sit down, shut up, and change your Depends. Idiots.

    Also, Kelley Hrudey looks like a hobo. Seriously, look at his hair. He looks like someone found him behind the CBC studio in a box, put a shirt on him, and threw him in front of a camera. He really looks like he'd should have a flask in his pocket and a little vomit on his shirt. I can't stand watching the guy.

  9. I'll have to take a look when I get home and can see videos and such. Maybe it was just the one arm that was moving out from the body, and he hit him with the other shoulder. Even still, I do think its a good starting point for making any sort of rules about headshots.

    Maybe I should go through some old hits and see how it would impact such things. I think this blogging bug is going to get me after all. I keep thinking of good things to investigate that aren't exactly relevant to what I'm doing right here.

  10. ARTHUR:
    You should. You put out good stuff, and they posted your comments over on the A2Y blog. You now sound like a traitorous Detroit fan. Gotta stick up for yourself.

    Personally, I force Daniel to work with me so I can manage the disease.

  11. whaaaaat?

    I don't read A2Y. Ever. Just scanned through the last few days of posts, didn't see it, thought I saw you guys. Must've been in the comments?

  12. Allright, looking at the video up there now, I see what you're saying. I'm not entirely sure he got him completely with the shoulder, but it wasn't an elbow or whatever, for sure. But watch his arm movement on the shoulder that connects with Hudler, particularly with his crouch. Hudler is bent down a bit as he's turning, so he isn't standing upright. Brown purposely strides towards him, coming up from behind, crouches, and starts to lead with that arm. It looks like he didn't actually pull the elbow from the body, but he certainly crouches into the hit, and then drives with that arm, on a hit where he's late and coming from behind the guy. He's intentionally lining it up at Hudler's head, and he's late and coming from behind.

    I don't see how that could be classified as anything but dirty. At that point, the question becomes, dirty enough to merit a suspension? I think it should, because 1) I think many of these headshots ought to be eliminated from the game. On that note, I'm more progressive than much of the NHL. 2) Within a series environment, particularly early in a series that figures to be long and very mean, its a decent idea to send a message. Give him a game, and make people thing twice about making such a hit. Helps your refs keep control through the series.

  13. ARTHUR:
    The A2Y thing was in the comments. Someone posted a comment you made about A2Y being stupid, and that being why you hang out at BoC. And then some other comment you made.

    I understand that he was coming from Hudler's defensive zone, but I don't see why everyone talks about him coming from behind. He makes contact with Hudler at a diagonal. It's not like he drilled him in the back of the head. And Hudler looks into the zone, like any professional hockey player should, before he turns and makes the play. People are kidding themselves if they think Scott Stevens always looked you in the eye when he drilled you. He wanted to come at you laterally, or at an angle where you couldn't see him, and hit you in the chest (read face), between the shoulders when you opened up.

    He leans into it to get a good hit. Since Hudler is crouching, I don't see how he can not hit him in the head, unless he gets on one knee. He doesn't extend his forearms or elbow to the get the head, he just buries his shoulder into his head. And I know what you're saying that you're more progressive than the NHL. But the league says you can head hunt with your shoulder. You can't hit a guy late, and I don't think Brown would've done it if it wasn't a retaliation on Hudler. But until the NHL comes out and says that a shoulder to the head is the same as an elbow to the head, and as long as that shot gets executed cleanly and without injury in so many other games, I will have a hard time coming around to seeing it as dirty.

  14. Bahahahaha, thats great.

    Alright, he didn't actually come like directly from 6 o clock, directly behind Hudler, coming at the numbers. He came from behind the play, off to the side, and hit him from a blind side. Not much different from most of Scott Stevens' hits, which were also pretty borderline.

    He could've leaned into it, but he didn't have to crouch and then go right up into his face. Hudler isn't even looking at him, and is not braced for a hit. If Brown just stood still in front of him, standing straight up and down, he'd probably knock Hudler down. If he skates into him, standing up, he's gonna knock him down, and be borderline on interference. He deliberately went for the head and that's what does it for me. The NHL penalizes some of these hits, but not all of them. Sometimes they say these hits are ok, sometimes they say they're bad. I think they should pretty much all go into the bad pile, and this ought to be one of them.