Skip to main content Blog: No defending Kostopoulos hit on Stuart

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Detroit Red Wings are in the race for first overall in the NHL and lose a top-four defenseman with a broken jaw for two months. The Calgary Flames have a snowball’s chance in Hades of making the playoffs and lose a fourth-liner, essentially an interchangeable part, for six games.

What a joke.

If Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock chose to publicly comment on the Tom Kostopoulos suspension for his head shot on Brad Stuart, that’s exactly what they could be justified in saying. (Although Babcock was critical of the act after the game.) You can bet the Red Wings are seething about the suspension, not to mention the fact Kostopoulos received only a minor for roughing on the play Friday night, but they have chosen to respect the process and keep their thoughts to themselves.

We gave up a long time ago trying to figure out any sort of logic behind the NHL’s system for dealing with crime and punishment. But in a league where you literally never, ever know what is going to be considered a suspendable offense and what is going to be termed as a legal hockey play, it was encouraging to see the NHL viewed Kostopoulos’ hit on Stuart as exactly what it was – a blatant head shot to an unsuspecting player in a vulnerable position.

Was six games enough? Of course it wasn’t. But when you have to deal with an NHL Players’ Association more concerned with the offending player’s lighter pocketbook than his victim’s lighter head, it is, perhaps, the best we could expect. Will it send a clear message that head shots will not be tolerated? I have my doubts, but I’ll take the suspension over the ridiculous notion that hits such as Kostopoulos’ are an essential byproduct of such a manly game and that Stuart, who was trying to play a bouncing puck in a dangerous scoring area, should have had his head up.

Which brings us to the reaction of the Calgary Flames to the suspension. Not only did Flames acting GM Jay Feaster take issue with the six-game suspension, but he didn’t think Kostopoulos should have been suspended at all.

My goodness, where do we start on that one?

First of all, we have to wonder exactly what replays Feaster and the Flames were watching. Secondly, isn’t it interesting that every GM in the league allegedly wants to get rid of these kinds of hits until one of his players is suspended for one of them?

Why Feaster decided to be so vocal in his opposition to the suspension and risk placing himself in such a negative light is curious. As a new GM, he wanted to let his players know that he is in their corner and will fight for them. We get that. But to do it at the risk of looking silly and questioning the league’s integrity?

As for the Flames and Kostopoulos, they of course fell on the old, tired and predictable, “we feel badly the player got hurt, but…blah, blah, blah.” You guys always feel badly for the player who got hurt. Another interesting thing is you always seem to plead that you didn’t intend to hurt the other guy, something Kostopoulos went to great lengths to point out when he responded to the suspension.

Well, the NHL never claimed Kostopoulos was trying to hurt Stuart, although when you chase down a player like a heat-seeking missile and drill your shoulder into his head, we kind of have to wonder exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish. But the fact remains it doesn’t matter whether he intended to hurt Stuart. The Kostopoulos hit was a reckless play that was executed not necessarily with malice, but with absolutely no regard for the well-being of the opponent.

There is nothing about it that makes it the “legal check” the Flames claim it was. And for the Flames to come out of this claiming they’ve been the ones somehow victimized, we’re pretty sure Stuart would be more than happy to change positions with Kostopoulos right about now.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog will appear every Monday throughout the season.

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