Martin Hanzal is a big dude. He’s listed as 6’ 6” (without skates, which add an inch or two to every player) and 230 pounds. He’s a solid guy, and his long reach is often a benefit to his ability to play a two-way game.
Unfortunately, because of his size relative to other guys on the ice, it can also mean he goes in for a hit and ends up making primary contact with a guy’s head when he’s aiming for shoulders. The thing is, recent years have more than reinforced the idea that hitters are responsible for where they deliver a hit. That’s why, when Hanzal was assessed a 5 minute major penalty for interference last night after this hit of Yannick Weber, I was neither surprised nor in an uproar about the penalty.
He clearly looks to have hit Weber primarily in the head. Whether that was a result of Weber’s extension towards the puck putting himself in a vulnerable position so close to the hit is what could be the difference between a suspension, or “time served”, so to speak.
The last suspension for an illegal check to the head that looked similar to Hanzal’s was this play by Los Angeles Kings forward Tanner Pearson:
Pearson, who executed the illegal check to the head on the then-Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson and injured him because of it, received a match penalty for the play. He was later suspended for 2 preseason games and 2 regular season games. In the video explanation, the Department of Player Safety states that this is an illegal check to the head made possible due to Pearson’s angle of approach, which makes a full body check impossible. He then extends his body up and outward, making the primary point of contact the head of the opposing player.
Is that not similar to what Hanzal did here in this hit?
Hanzal doesn’t appear to “explode through” the hit he delivered to Weber as much as Pearson’s hit to Davidson. However, it does look as though the way in which he positioned himself for the hit matches the “angle of approach that makes a full body check impossible” that was part of the reason Pearson got 4 total games for his hit without a history of such plays at the NHL level.
As well, both Weber and Davidson in these sequences appear to be making plays with the puck and not totally seeing the hitter coming at them. One difference that might be a factor for Hanzal is that Weber appears to lose the puck, and then reaches for it, dropping his head and making himself more vulnerable for a hit after Hanzal had decided to try to separate Weber from the puck.
So I could also see Hanzal not getting a suspension, similar to how this this hit by William Carrier (then of the Buffalo Sabres) to the head of Boston Bruins forward David Backes, in which Backes appears to put himself in a vulnerable position just prior to impact, was not deemed worth of a suspension last season:
This play also resulted in an injury, and Carrier was assessed a two minute minor for a check to the head.
Hanzal’s punishment is likely to fall somewhere in between these two plays. I could see the Department of Player Safety determining that the 5 minute major penalty assessed to Hanzal (though it was assessed for “interference” and not “illegal check to the head”) was punishment enough considering the positioning of both players during this play. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they give him a 1-2 game suspension since he did hit a guy in a vulnerable position, and there has to be accountability on the hitter for what they’re doing on the ice.