John-Michael Liles has spent most of his career as a clean hockey player. He's a swift puck-moving defenseman who has never gotten mixed up in the rough stuff too much. He has no history of supplemental discipline from the NHL. He's an extremely pleasant interview, talkative and sincere.
But the Boston Bruins' newest blueline acquisition may be in trouble after colliding with Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov Tuesday night. Have a look. And if you don't have a strong stomach for homer announcers, you might want to mute this clip or at least keep a bucket handy:
Kucherov returned to the game, and no penalty was called on the play, but neither of those facts has any bearing on whether Liles will be suspended. Injuries only impact suspension length, and non-penalized plays can still result in suspensions, as the NHL Department of Player Safety operates separately from officials and the hockey operations department.
Liles appears to have violated Rule 48.1: illegal check to the head. Let's review the rule:
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.
Note how Liles' arm extends away from his body, specifically targeting or "picking" Kucherov's head. It's not the movement of a player trying to avoid dangerous contact. What might save Liles is the fact his glove and forearm appear to do the most damage as opposed to his elbow, reducing the violence of the blow. Still, any play singling out the head like that deserves a lengthy look. Liles isn't a dirty player, but he was at the very least a careless one Tuesday night. That Kucherov wasn't seriously hurt and that Liles is not a repeat offender ensures Liles won't face a long suspension. But the educated guess here is he sits for a game or two.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com 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