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Crimes and Consequences

The head shot debate is still percolating.  Now folks are even talking about how to treat the victim as well as how to punish the offender:

“If a player goes down motionless like that, if the league is really serious about concussions, he shouldn’t really be able to come back into the game,” Thornton said. “Realistically, you’re down motionless for a couple minutes, you’ve got to get a CT-scan or something if you’re really serious about concussions. There’s no way he should have come back in that game.” -Working the Corners

No kidding.  He was just hit in the head by a hockey player.  I don’t care how he thinks he feels.  Get him to the hospital now.  But I’ve been over that.

The Thornton suspension still rubs me the wrong way, and it goes beyond “hey, you are picking on one of my guys!”  There’s also this: it is not clear whether the NHL is punishing players for their actions, or the consequences of those actions, or both.  Because they are the only two cases I’m familiar with, I’ll compare a 2 game suspension to a 3 game suspension: Thornton and Briere.  Totally different, I know, but bear with me.

Consequence: Thornton-Perron

Thornton probably would not have hit Perron in the head if Perron had not been looking the other way.  That made it “blindside” but only in the loosest sense.  Thornton let Perron run into him.  Did he stand there with intent?  Did he aim this vicious standing at Perron’s head?  That would be pretty difficult to make a case for.  But Thornton did intend for them to collide.

Was Perron negligent?  Only in the loosest sense.  Most of the time, when players are accused of not keeping their heads up, they are moving forward with the puck, looking down.  In this case Perron did not have the puck, but he was about to receive a pass.  By looking to receive that pass, he was doing his job.

Just like Thornton was doing his job by getting in his way.

You can’t accuse either player of malice or negligence.  They were doing their jobs without intent to harm.   To avoid this hit, one or both players would have to abandon his post, not do his job under the rules of the game.

Combine the factors of chance and game rules and you have, essentially, an accident.  How the rules are flawed is another rant from an earlier day.  Nonetheless, the collision was very dangerous.

NHL verdict: two game suspension.

Action: Briere-Nielsen

Briere’s offense was far from accidental.  He lifted his stick and moved it in the direction of Nielsen’s head.  Did Briere mean to hit him in the face or go over his head or push him away?  No matter.  He pushed his stick at the other player’s head, he meant to do that much.  That is against the rules.  He acted illegally.

Short of losing an eye, the comparative risk of dire or lasting injury was far less than in the Thornton case.  Incalculably less.  The players were standing still, just after the faceoff.  There was no speeding body velocity to bring to bear.

NHL verdict: three game suspension.

A Difference of One

I agree that Briere’s action, being easier to avoid, deserved a more severe penalty than Thornton’s act.  My emotions want the difference to be greater than one game, but if I had to, I could reverse engineer an explanation.

The NHL could justify it like this:

They want to consider the risk of lasting injury, regardless of intent.  They also want to punish intentionally dangerous acts.  The first is what you really want to stop, the second is easier to control.  So weigh them equally.

Say the Thornton hit merited a 1 out of 10 on the dangerous intent scale, but gets an 8 on the risk of lasting injury scale.  The Briere cross-check, on the other hand, deserved a 9 on the dangerous intent scale (unless you are me and you will buy any half-assed excuse from Danny) but only a 2 on the risk scale.  If you average the scores, you get 4.5 and 5.5.  Not the same but pretty close.  One game?  Could be.

But the NHL won’t show their math. If a hugely biased fan can come up with something, why can’t they?  If they cannot explain their thinking, how do we know they are thinking at all?

There will be a learning curve, for refs and players, when something new is introduced.  But the post-game review process should already be consistent.  The NHL is not making split-second decisions.  They have replays from many angles, a very large library of video hits to use for comparison, and time to look at them.

The NHL wrote the rules, they should be able to explain how they are using them.

Like, now.

Right now.


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