Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Cody Eakin's botched hipcheck on Matt Stajan in Monday's Dallas Stars game drew a well deserved penalty for interference and the ire of the Flames. But was it really as dirty as it seemed in real time?
This is a post I really thought I wouldn't have to write.
But then I saw the replays from different angles and realized while Stajan went flying, Eakin basically botched an attempted hip check by not getting low enough rather than anything more nefarious. Further replays showed that Stajan basically got caught in the solar plexus with Eakin's shoulder and hip, then rolled off Eakin's back in a pretty awkward manner rather with almost no lower body involvement. It was absolutely interference because it was a beat late, but it wasn't particularly malicious.
But then Flames coach Bob Hartley came out and said this:
"I remember when they instituted the five minute (penalty) for interference. That's a classic case," Hartley told reporters after the game. "That's one of the dirtiest hits that I've seen…Those hits can end careers."
I'm not sure if Hartley had seen the replay of the hit when he made that statement, and live-speed it did look like one of those side-swipe hipchecks that ends up getting all knees. But we're going to look at today why this is not worthy of a five-minute major for interference and certainly is not a classic low-bridge or submarine type hit that puts a player's knees at risk.
So to begin, here's the hit itself. Stick tap to Puck Daddy for the video.
Let's start with what this hit unquestionably is - this hit is late. Not ridiculously so, not suspendably so, but absolutely late. It comes a little more than a half second (probably closer to three-quarters) after Stajan has tipped the puck into the Stars zone. Eakin totally deserved an interference minor in this case.
But should it have been a major, like Hartley argues? Here's what will get you an interference major, via the NHL Rulebook:
56.4 Major Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence, to a player guilty of interfering with an opponent (see 56.5).
56.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.
Stajan popped up pretty quickly, so the game misconduct was never in play here. And the degree of violence generally means the violence of the collision itself, not the ensuing fall. Interference, unlike boarding and high sticking, is not a penalty of result (so interference is about what the hitter does rather than what happens to the guy who takes the check). And as we'll see, the contact from Eakin to Stajan is definitely there but not as serious as the fall would indicate.
To set the stage again, Stajan is receiving a pass from behind that he will then tip into the zone. Eakin is coming from across the ice, from Stajan's left. Eakin cuts slightly in front of Stajan and lowers his upper body. Let's illustrate how far down he gets with this terrible standard-def screenshot:
That ball of darkness at the middle of the picture is Eakin and Stajan at the moment of impact. Eakin is definitely ducking, but his shoulder are only at the level of Stajan's emblem. His feet are set perpendicular to Stajan's, which will come into play in a moment. Eakin is not overly low, and he's obviously not anywhere near Stajan's head either. You can clearly see Stajan's knees with the white socks against the black pants, and Eakin's body is nowhere near them. This is not a low bridge.
In fact, there's no such thing as a "low bridge" in the NHL rulebook. What most people are talking about when they mention that is clipping. Here's the rule:
44.1 Clipping - Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.
A player may not deliver a check in a "clipping" manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.
An illegal "low hit" is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his knees. A player may not lower his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s knees.
Eakin is clearly not throwing himself in the area of Stajan's knees - he's just not low enough for that.
Another terrible screenshot from a different angle, where you can again see Eakin's just not that low. You can also see Stajan start to pull back instinctively from the crazy redhead cutting in front of him, which will only serve to make the fall more awkward because his momentum is now trying to go two directions at once - his feet still forward but his upper body slowing up.
You can also see how their knees don't clack at any point while Stajan has his weight on the ice.
And the final terrible quality screenshot, to illustrate why the fall looked so awkward - as Eakin skates through the hit, the swings his upper body upward to put more momentum into Stajan. Stajan's feet initially continued forward and left the ice as his progress was stopped by Eakin's hip (which made me think there was a trip as well, but on second and third viewing I think the foot contact is minimal at best). But then Stajan's upper body runs into Eakin, and he then rolls forward and off Eakin's back.
That leads to Stajan kind of spiraling off Eakin and landing on his side. When you watch the replay, he even manages to get his legs curled up to protect him from the landing.
So again, this is 115 percent interference, and Eakin is entirely at fault for not getting the timing right. But it's not a low bridge, and while the fall is awkward, I don't think it's particularly dangerous. The biggest danger to Stajan is the impact from the ice when he lands in that uncontrolled spin, not any contact from Eakin himself, who gets Stajan in the hips, stomach and torso but not in the danger areas of the knees or head.
Like I said, I understand Hartley's frustration in real time. This looked like a pretty nasty leg clip when you see it live speed given how hard Stajan spun off. But when you know what the rules are and you watch the hit itself (even without the terrible quality screenshots, which are mostly here to prove that Eakin was never that low to begin with and illustrate why the fall was so awkward), it's not suspendable. It's not even a major. It's just interference.