No one wants to see any player injured, and the blow Nashville Predators defenseman Yannick Weber absorbed Thursday was ugly. It was also a hockey play, the result of incidental contact caused by unfortunate circumstances. It was not a suspendable act by Dallas Stars Martin Hanzal. It may have looked that way in the moment, but it’s not remotely worthy of supplemental discipline. In fact, if you follow the NHL rulebook, Hanzal didn’t even deserve a penalty.
Here’s a look at the hit:
First off: Hanzal received a five-minute major for interference, and there shouldn’t have even been a penalty called. It’s understandable why that happened, as the on-ice officials have to make decisions in a split second, but Weber touched the puck just prior to contact. Hanzal was thus making a play on the puck. Not interference at all.
Secondly, while Weber, sadly, sustained some head contact, the head wasn’t Hanzal’s target. This was not a violation of rule 48.1, illegal check to the head, which states:
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 the 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.
Per (i), Weber’s head absorbs some impact, but there’s no headhunting here. Hanzal is attempting a hit in the chest, and the blow starts there, with Weber’s head snapping back as a result. Also note that Hanzal’s left arm is fully tucked at the point of impact. There’s no targeting behavior happening here. Per (ii) and (iii), Weber bends down to reach for the puck right before Hanzal hits him, so Weber thus puts himself in a vulnerable position:
Ears steaming yet, Predators fans? Sorry. Nothing personal. But there’s no chance of supplemental discipline here. Why? Now’s as good a time as any for a refresher on how the NHL’s Department of Player Safety evaluates violent in-game collisions (For a deeper dive on the topic, click here to read my account of visiting the DOPS in in 2015). On top of the fact the play simply wasn’t illegal, as outlined above:
1. Hanzal’s history doesn’t factor in here. He’s been suspended a couple times before, but the most recent ban was 2013, and if two offenses are more than 18 months apart, the perpetrator doesn’t qualify as a repeat offender. Even if Hanzal did, it wouldn’t matter, as a player’s history only impacts suspension length – not the initial decision to suspend. The hit on Weber wasn’t suspension-worthy, meaning Hanzal’s history won’t even be considered.
2. Injury to Weber won’t impact whether Hanzal is suspended, even if Weber ends up missing multiple games. As is the case with repeat-offender history, injuries only lengthen suspension sentences. They don’t impact the initial decision to suspend. And since the hit wasn’t illegal, the league won’t factor Weber’s injury into any punishment or lack thereof for Hanzal.
3. The five-minute major has no bearing on supplemental discipline for Hanzal. The officials operate under the umbrella of hockey operations in Toronto, while the DOPS is housed in New York. They are two separate departments who make independent decisions. A penalized play, even one involving a major or a misconduct, doesn’t always result in a suspension, and sometimes suspensions get handed out for plays that weren’t penalized in-game.
So think of this Hanzal incident as a template for cracking the code on suspensions as the season progresses. Pay attention to whether players put themselves in vulnerable positions and whether perpetrators make a point of targeting the head or other fragile parts of their opponents’ bodies. Both are good predictors of whether players will get suspended.