Sometimes, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety must make difficult decisions. Game 6 of the Blue Jackets/Bruins series Monday night was not one of those times. Suspending Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy for his hit on Columbus right winger Josh Anderson was an open-and-shut case because McAvoy’s violation of Rule 48.1, illegal check to the head, was so clear.
First, let’s look at the hit:
— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) May 7, 2019
Now, here’s our Rule 48.1 refresher.
“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.
We already know McAvoy deserves supplemental discipline before we even get to the rule’s sub-criteria. The hit was the main point of contact and, judging by the manner in which McAvoy launches himself upward toward the head, the head contact was clearly avoidable. If we factor in the extra criteria: the angle of approach was indeed poor, the head was picked, and Anderson did nothing to put himself in a particularly vulnerable position, unless you count the fact he was looking at the puck while handling it.
If only the cases were all this simple. It’s a blatant, clear violation of Rule 48.1, and that’s why McAvoy will have a hearing with the DOPS. The department operates independently of all officials, so the on-ice call of two minutes for illegal check to the head has no impact on the decision to suspend. (Side note: that’s a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? Is there really a such thing as a “minor” check to the head?)
McAvoy called the hit a “hockey play” when asked about it after the game, pointing to the fact he didn’t extend his elbow. But while his intentions might have been innocent enough, this is a case of a player simply not understanding the rule. Elbow to head? Nope. But it was a shoulder to Anderson’s head. That’s a no-no.
In certain cases, the narrative of a game and implied “intent” of bad behavior can factor into supplemental discipline – such as an out-of-hand score or a clear motivation to retaliate for an earlier incident. In McAvoy’s case, however, a lack of intent wouldn’t save him, because the rule violation was so crisp. Reckless play isn’t as bad as premeditated on-ice violence, but reckless play is something the league wants removed from the game regardless.
So how many games does McAvoy get? He’s a near lock to miss Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes. His lack of prior offenses and the fact Anderson returned to the game will help, as both factors could have lengthened the suspension if applicable. So the guess here is a minimum of one game and a maximum of two. Given the NHL “weighs” playoff games as the equivalent of multiple regular season games, a one-game ban seems most likely for McAvoy.
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