By now you’ve seen the dangerous hit that Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall laid on Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on Monday night. You’ve probably also heard that Kronwall was suspended for one game by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and will miss Wednesday night’s winner-take-all Game 7 showdown as a result.
That’s a tough break for the Wings, who would have found it tough to win on the road even with their No. 1 defender in the lineup. Without him, their chances in Game 7 take an even bigger hit.
But full marks to the DoPS, a group that too often falls short on the common sense scale. Then again, Kronwall’s actions didn’t leave them much wiggle room. By any definition this was a dangerous foul, a hit that involved leaping prior to the collision with the victim’s head as the primary point of contact.
In fact, the infraction was so obvious that it leaves only one question: How did the on-ice officials miss it?
Given what was involved, this was impossible to defend as a legitimate hockey play. And yet neither Dave Jackson and Steve Kozari, who can be seen in various replays to be looking directly at the two players at the moment of contact, thought it crossed the line. No penalty was called.
It’s not like their whistles were stashed away. The pair called a total of 17 infractions that night. All were minors, and not all of them blatant. In fact, many appeared to be of the “game management” variety. You know the type—send a couple guys to the box specifically to prevent a heated situation from escalating.
Those aren’t bad calls. Some of them are ticky-tack, sure, but they suggest that the officials are in control.
So given that apparent level of vigilance, how did they miss the single most blatant and dangerous violation of the rules on their watch?
Letting the boys play is one thing. Letting them play recklessly is something else entirely. The standard they set is one that could get someone seriously injured. If the league has any real interest in player safety, neither Jackson nor Kozari should be allowed to call another game in these playoffs.
Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. If anything, the Jackson/Kozari approach has become the league-wide standard for the playoffs, allowing hits that ranged from borderline to unquestionably dangerous to go uncalled and leaving fans to wonder how the quality of officiating has sunk to this level.
Need another example? Take a look at the hit Alex Ovechkin laid on Thomas Hickey on Monday night. The Islanders defender goes into the corner to track down a loose puck with Ovechkin hard on his heels. At that moment, the Capitals star has two choices: He could make a play for the puck or he could make contact with Hickey.
The smart decision, you know, the one that leads to a scoring chance, is to pursue the puck, but finishing the check is fine too ... as long as it’s legal contact. This was anything but legal. With Hickey in a highly vulnerable position a foot out from the boards, Ovechkin delivered a crosscheck to the lower back that drove the defender face-first into the glass and dropped him to the ice, dazed.
It was comical how far over the line it was. But Francis Charron and Dan O’Rourke somehow saw just another good hockey play.
Forget about a suspension. How about simple on-ice accountability?
I have to say that I tend to give the officials a whole lot more slack than the average fan. The speed at which the game unfolds today is impossible to appreciate unless you’re actually at ice level. In most cases, the mistakes they make are noticeable only with the benefit of multiple angles of replay.
Even with four sets of eyes, missing stuff is inevitable. But they can’t miss violations as blatant as these.
When they do, it shouldn’t only be the player who gets suspended.