Suspend him or not: Radko Gudas clobbers Daniel Catenacci

Flyers blueliner Radko Gudas is at it again with another questionable hit. But what rule did he break?

It feels like Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas flirts with supplemental discipline once a month these days. It’s hardly a coincidence, as he deliberately plays on the edge every night. It’s what makes him a tough brick of a man to play against, and it’s also what has him courting significant trouble so often.

He was suspended in December for a hit to the head of Mika Zibanejad but has also landed on the right side of the law after several other incidents this season, including a blow to the head of Viktor Stalberg in October and a hit on Lucas Lessio that got Gudas ejected but not suspended for clipping a couple weeks ago.

The latest Gudas incident: this huge blow on rookie Buffalo Sabres center Daniel Catenacci Thursday night. Behold:

Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe opted for street justice and immediately threw down with Gudas afterward. In today’s era of every-big-body-check-results-in-an-instant-fight, the fisticuffs were the least surprising thing in the world. The question is, though: did Gudas technically do anything wrong?

Rule 48.1, illegal check to the head:

A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.

In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i)  Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward. 

(ii)  Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

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Based on the league’s definition of an illegal check to the head, Gudas arguably did not break a rule. He didn’t pick Catenacci’s head. He didn’t angle himself toward Catenacci’s head. Gudas didn’t extend his limbs to generate extra force, either. And Catenacci clearly did put himself in a vulnerable position prior to the contact.

Here’s where things get very tricky. In a sense of “feel,” Gudas’ play seems dirty. It “feels” like he had time to get out of the way. But the NHL’s Department of Player Safety can’t operate on feel. It has to operate within the rules, within the collective bargaining agreement. So while Gudas could face a significant ban as a repeat offender, the educated guess here is he gets off again, even if we’ll all want to take a shower upon learning the news.

When Matt Cooke ruined Marc Savard’s career in 2010, it caused an outrage. At the time, though, rule 48.1 didn’t exist. Per the rules, Cooke hadn’t committed a suspendable offense, and that’s why he got off. It took a new rule to make future Cooke-like hits illegal. And while Gudas likely gets off on the grounds of breaking no rule, it’s fair to wonder if the NHL should consider amendments down the road to broaden the definition of, and properly punish, any predatory behavior.

So for anyone outraged if Gudas doesn’t earn any supplemental discipline: blame the rules, not the DOPS. It’s fair to wonder if a play like Gudas’ should be illegal, but, for now, it probably isn’t.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin