Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we ask the Globe's roster of hockey writers to answer a question on the hot topic of the day.
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Today's question: Does Ottawa Senators forward Nick Foligno deserve to be suspended for the hit shown in the clip below from last night's game? No penalty was called on the play.
UPDATE: Nick Foligno was fined $2,500 on Friday for an illegal check to the head on Carolina's Patrick Dwyer. No penalty was called on the play. The fine is the maximum permitted under terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
"While there was no injury as a result of the hit, it is clear that Foligno delivered a shoulder check from the blind side that made primary contact with Dwyer's head," NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said in a release.
"It is also clear that Foligno was delivering the hit in an attempt to get the puck. Finally, in determining that a fine was the appropriate discipline for this incident, I took into account that Foligno has not been suspended previously by the league."
I was at the game and while I do believe an argument can be made for no suspension, I am going to argue strongly for one -- at least a game. The message clearly isn't getting through. Just as parking tickets are meaningless if they cost next to nothing, so, too, with discipline in hockey. And given that the "punishment" available in fines does not even amount to pocket change -- piffle, the players say -- the one punishment that registers is losing games when one is healthy. In the case of Foligno, missing a game will hurt far more than the lost money -- the reason being that he is off to a flat start after a stellar exhibition season and, I would suggest, his job as a top-six forward is very much on the line. He needs to play. He needs to score. And he needs to learn. So the NHL should teach him a small, quick and perhaps effective lesson.
This is a really tough call but I will say no suspension. This hit does have some characteristics of the blind-side hits that are the target of the new penalty but not enough to warrant a suspension.
Foligno appears to have his gaze toward the puck as much as on Dwyer. Also, he is not churning his feet to build up a good charge and he did not lower the point of his shoulder into Dwyer's head. Foligno did lean into Dwyer to make the hit but it was not an act of head-hunting in my view.
Not sure if I would want Colin Campbell's job under any circumstances and the primary reason is the just the sort of decision he's going to have to make on the Nick Foligno hit against the Carolina Hurricanes' Patrick Dwyer during Thursday night's NHL game between the two teams. Hurricanes' coach Paul Maurice was pretty clear about what he saw - Foligno's shoulder to Dwyer's head. It wasn't a north-south collision, which is still permitted under the blindside headshot rule adopted by the NHL last year. Ergo, there should be a suspension - and indeed he's' right. Something should be assessed. But what? How much?
At some point, the NHL will have to throw the book at a head-hunting player, trying to hurt an opponent with a vicious blow to the head. All the concussion research points in that direction. Even the appetite for ramping up the supplementary discipline is growing among NHL players, who - more and more - believe that the league needs to do a better job of policing its own game. There are just too many players are being hauled off the ice on stretchers, going to hospital, then spending an indeterminate time on the sidelines trying to recover.
Thankfully, this wasn't one of them. Dwyer got right up and continued to play.
But even if he'd been hurt, I'm not sure if this hit is the right time to draw that important line in the sand. A couple of days ago, Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller called on the league to "wake up" and send for a message to players about what is and what isn't allowed, after Buffalo's Jason Pominville was concussed by a hit from behind by the Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Blackhawks weren't even sure if was a penalty. Campbell's verdict there - two games - settled somewhere between those two points of view. It'll probably be the same here. Like it or not, one of Campbell's criteria for supplementary discipline is whether a player was injured - and to what extent.
Ultimately, the league needs to follow Miller's advice and drop a big number on a player that does something as egregious as what Matt Cooke did to Marc Savard last year, or what Steve Downie did a couple of times when he first came into the league. But as is the case with so many plays that happen at high speed, Hjalmarsson on Pominville or Foligno on Dwyer wasn't just black and white. There were too many shades of grey for Campbell on both plays to turn these incidents into landmark cases.
If the NHL seriously wants to get blindsided head shots out of the game, it has to keep sending the same message - give a shot, take a seat. For that Nick Foligno deserves a game. Okay, so it wasn't the most flagrant hit we've seen over the last few years. He didn't leave his feet; didn't hit an opposing player who wasn't within the same postal code as the puck. No matter. Keep setting the boundaries for the players. Let them know what won't be tolerated. Let them know what's a good, hard check and what's a potentially dangerous, suspendable offence.
Who knows? Eventually, the players might just get it.
There are a couple of interesting points made above, Roy's 'short, sharp, shock' argument is a persuasive one.
Either you decide that type of hit is part of the game, or you don't, and the league expressed its position on that point last year. If the NHL took the trouble of implementing a new rule aimed at exactly this kind of incident, it's incumbent on the players to stay within those rules; they shouldn't be surprised to be punished.
Foligno should be made an example of precisely because Dwyer wasn't badly injured - there's been an unfortunate tendency at all levels of hockey to base the sanction on the severity of the injuries suffered as a result of egregious acts rather than on the acts themselves. So I say suspend him, particularly given the special attention paid to educating players about exactly this type of play.
How long? Well there's the rub, as Eric notes.
The league richly deserves to be criticized because of the subjective approach it takes to supplementary discipline. Hammer a guy into the boards from behind, and you might get two games if he's standing near the wall (Hjalmarsson) or you might get four if he isn't (Maxim Lapierre on Scott Nichol last season). Unless you get two (Alex Ovechkin on Brian Campbell last season). Go all rogue woodcutter on a guy's ankle and put your stick in his face, and you might get one game (Mike Cammalleri), but don't mime a naughty gesture in front of the kiddies, cos that's two.
Yes, Colin Campbell has a terribly difficult, thankless job, but if we can have sentencing guidelines with ranges of penalties for crimes off the ice, why not have them for offences on the ice? If the NHL decides that eliminating head shots is a priority, why not spell out the consequences for targeting a player's head, and instill a minimum suspension the way some junior leagues do? Minimum sentences are not a perfect solution, as experience in the real-world justice system has shown, but in NHL terms it would eliminate the fuzziness and confusion and players would know where they stand.
All that said, this case poses a couple of broader problems. There's clearly a difficulty in the way the blindside rule is worded and applied (north-south contact is still allowed? That's utter madness). It would also be nice to know why no penalty was assessed on the play. There are four officials out there, two of whom were watching the hit when it happened. I reckon there's a broader discussion to be had about the way the league instructs its refs, and, I'm sad to say, about the abilities of the guys wearing the zebra shirts.
As for the keep-yer-head-up crowd out there who see no problem with this kind of hit or argue it's clean, I will assume you've never been hit that way.
Or that you have once too many and it's affected your judgment.
For God's sake. There's less baffle-gab in a life insurance contract than some of the explanations here. It's easy: head-shot? Five-game suspension, minimum. Hitting from behind? Ten games minimum. Automatic, with escalators based on injury and intent, plus a heavy fine assessed against the offending player's head coach. Try $20,000. You'll piss people off on the border line hits, but you'll get rid of the garbage quicker. It would be worth the odd heavy-handedness.