We’ve known for some time the NHL is at a crossroads when it comes to concussions and protecting the heads of players. In the past – and in putting the sport ahead of those who participate in it – the league has had a default position of giving aggressive players the benefit of the doubt on borderline actions. But maybe things are starting to change for the better. And that’s because we’re starting to see the other side of that spectrum: referees making headshot-related calls that err on the side of caution.
Such was the case Sunday night, when Canadiens defenseman Jarred Tinordi was ejected in the third period of Montreal’s game against Washington after he hit Capitals forward Nate Schmidt at the Habs blueline:
Although some argued Tinordi’s hit was dirty, closer examination – at least, by this viewer – shows Tinordi hit Schmidt cleanly.
Tinordi – who, at 6-foot-6, is a full half-foot taller than the 6-foot-tall Schmidt – isn’t reckless with his body or targeting his opponent’s head. Schmidt, on the other hand, is so busy trying to dump the puck into Montreal’s zone, he never looks up to see Tinordi is about to check him.
With the benefit of slow-motion video replay, it’s clear Tinordi shouldn’t have been tossed out of the game. But ask yourself this: for the good of the game and the long-and-short-term health of athletes, would you rather the referees make these types of choices, or return to their more regular practice of allowing dangerous-looking hits to happen without any punishment?
Personally, I’d prefer the officials take a less-forgiving approach. They’re never going to get to a point where they eject all players simply for hard checks – so let’s nip that straw man argument in the bud right here and now – but their actions need to show players that, in any situation where they’re considering taking aggressive moves against an opponent, they have to show some modicum of restraint and control or risk being unable to help their team for at least the rest of the game and perhaps longer.
This is the only way the game’s gatekeepers are going to effect meaningful change among the players. If that means the occasional player is sent to the showers after a clean hit, I’m OK with it. Because it sure beats the old system, where players had to more or less decapitate an opponent to be ejected. Hockey can no longer abide that type of approach to athlete safety.
So, while Canadiens fans have a right to be upset with the call, they need to understand what the philosophy behind those types of calls will do for a Montreal player down the line. Maybe P.K. Subban doesn’t get blindsided because of it. Maybe Max Pacioretty avoids a reckless elbow because his opponent saw what happens to NHLers who don’t take an extra second or two to consider what they’re doing on the ice.
The Tinordi call didn’t benefit the Canadiens Sunday, but the youngster won't face any supplementary discipline for the hit. But those who would use an incorrect call like this one to argue against a headshot crackdown are fixating on trees when they ought to be taking the larger view of the forest.