Monday, March 15, 2010
Good Call, Bad Call: The Ovechkin/Campbell Incident
The league's Wheel of Discipline has spun again, and NHL's Vanna White (Colin Campbell) turns over a 2-game suspension for Alex Ovechkin for this hit on Brian Campbell:
An ugly incident, no doubt, and the damage was even worse: a broken collarbone and rib for one of Chicago's most expensive and consistent rearguards.
The outcry from the blogosphere has been heard, including an interesting Puck Daddy response from editor Greg Wyshynski, where he says:
"If you believe, as we do, that a dumb shove in the back near the end boards with unfortunate circumstances isn't the stuff suspensions are made of -- and that you should suspend to the act, not the result -- then the NHL just whiffed on another disciplinary decision."
An interesting assertion, though it makes you wonder who he's referring to when he says "we." Consider the contention of fellow Puck Daddy contributor Ryan Lambert (also of the blog Two-Line Pass), who has his own take, posted on Puck Daddy:
"The puck was clearly away from Campbell when Ovechkin engaged him, and the hit gave Campbell no way to protect himself crashing into the end-boards. Textbook boarding call in a very dangerous part of the ice. Of course it deserved a match penalty, it was an exceptionally stupid play on Ovie's part."
So obviously even in Yahoo's world we have conflicted responses to this hit, and for good reason. You could argue that Campbell's fall was made worse by what appears to be a caught edge. You could argue that Ovechkin's hit was just part of a good forecheck, as does Wyshynski. Wyshynski also makes the argument that, in light of the Matt Cooke hit on Savard receiving no suspension, this suspension is ridiculous. A person could also protest that, because he received a game misconduct (and thus an automatic 1-game suspension), he's been punished enough.
On the other hand, you could also argue that Maxim Lapierre's hit, which received a 4-game suspension, is a good litmus test for what the call should be here:
There was no call on Lapierre for making that hit after Nichol attempted to bat the puck out of the air. Nichol was back one game and one week later. You could argue that Ovechkin has been no more or no less of a repeat offender than was Lapierre, which is true. You could argue that it was a hard backcheck for Lapierre just as much as it was a hard forecheck for Ovechkin.
Or you could try to ignore all the external yapping and isolate the play itself, beyond these comparisons and chatter. Is the Ovechkin hit an illegal hit? Yes. It was called a boarding. Did it result in injury? Yes. He was given a game misconduct for that reason, which goes hand-in-hand with an additional 1-game suspension. Was the act dangerous enough to merit further action by the league? That's the sticking point.
I lean towards yes, it was dangerous enough. What if Campbell hadn't been able to pitch sideways at the last second to absorb the impact with his collarbone and rib? That move saved his career. He didn't pitch sideways because Ovechkin willed it. He pitched sideways to save his neck. Much in the same way that Nichol pitched sideways to save his neck.
In the end, Ovechkin loses 3 games to suspension, while Lapierre lost 4. That's about as close to parity as your going to get in the NHL, and I think for once the league got something right. And they didn't pander to the notion that suspending Ovechkin would hurt the popularity or pocketbook of the league. Shoot, if Downie gets off without a suspension for this ridiculousness, you'd start to think Bettman actually wants to dispel the notion that he wears Crosby underwear and Ovechkin pajamas.
By the way, Ovechkin does not qualify for automatic suspension, as boarding calls inhabit a different category of repeat offenders in the rule book. He'd had to have 3 boarding infractions over the last 41 games, which he doesn't.
Now bring the pain...
P.S. And the results are in: no suspension for Downie.