The NHL, over the past year, has decided that it needs to cut down on blindsided hits to the head. The fact that the NHL never took action until after a number of high-profile players were seriously injured is beside the point; what matter is that the league and the players decided the time had come when dangerous hits to the head, even if not from an elbow, would be punished accordingly.
They even have a video describing exactly what is defined as a blind side hit. Let's add another example, shall we?
At 11:21 of the second period, Daniel Paille of the Boston Bruins blatantly hits the Stars' Ray Sawada up high and from the 'blind side', coming at Sawada from more than a 90 degree angle as Sawada carried the puck into the zone. His shoulder connects directly with Sawada's head and the young forward was lost for the rest of the game.
Here's video of the hit, highlighting the Dallas Stars broadcast:
Much more after the jump....
Just so we cover all our bases, here's coverage of the hit from the NESN broadcast.
I honestly don't understand how anyone could watch that hit and claim it wasn't blindside, that it wasn't illegal or that it wasn't a blatant shot to the head. That I've even had to argue this tonight is unfathomable. This hit is a perfect example of what the NHL is trying to crack down on, and I don't understand how it can be seen any other way.
First, Paille came at Sawada from behind and to this side -- the exact definition of "blind side". He launched himself up and into the hit, his shoulder connecting with Sawada's head as his feet left the ice. While it wasn't an elbow, the shoulder has been deemed just as illegal on blindside hits, and we saw tonight just how devastating they can be; Sawada never played another shift in the game.
I'm not going to sit here and say it was "intent to injure" as I think anything short of a Marty McSorley out on the ice is tough to prove as such. I do know that I'm astounded that any player on the Bruins, of all the teams in the NHL, would launch himself at an opponent in this way, at that spot on the ice and from that direction. The Bruins have likely lost their best player for his CAREER because of blindside hit to the head, and yet it's apparent that players such as Paille have certainly not decided to curb their violent ways.
Look, violent hits will happen in hockey. Some of them will be determined to be illegal and some of them will be intentional and most won't be. The Dallas Stars have some of the most physical players in the NHL and we see first hand nearly every night the fine line that has been drawn between a clean and hard hit and those that are "dirty" and illegal.
As a Stars fan, I've defended plenty of hard hits that were controversial and deemed illegal by the NHL. I've defended James Neal, Steve Ott and Stephane Robidas numerous times on hits that have gotten them suspended. But I will always be the first to say whether a hit is illegal or not -- even if it comes from a Stars player -- and I'll never claim a hit is illegal just because it came against the Stars. When it's a hit that comes from a player launching themselves, in open ice, at another player from anything other than in front of him -- that is always going to be an illegal hit in my book.
The fact is, this is one of the worst hits we've seen this season.
Paille was hit with a match penalty and a 5-minute major, which is what you would expect from the officials in this situation. The question is whether the NHL decides to add anything on to the automatic one-game suspension that comes with the match penalty -- something that is very questionable considering that the NHL turned a blind eye to the hit by Tom Sestito on Nik Grossman earlier this season.
Personally, I know that whatever punishment the NHL hands out won't be enough. Sawada isn't high-profile enough, and the hit wasn't as brutal. But if the NHL really is serious about cutting down on these hits, then eventually they'll have to hand out some very harsh punishments.
I know I'll be disappointed, however.