To Hit Or Not To Hit (Update)

This weekend has brought about the resurrection of the “blows to the head” debate courtesy of two different yet interlinked plays.  Friday night’s game between Colorado and Carolina brings an added twist of what happens when a bad thing happens to Darcy Tucker.

Tucker was taken off the ice on a stretcher and received a concussion on the play as well as 40 stitches.  Ruutu has been slapped with a three-game suspension for the hit.

I’m not going to be a facetious jerk-off about this, I am going to ask this bluntly:  Who, aside from Toronto Maple Leafs fans who still worship the ground Tucker walks on, feels bad for what happened to Darcy Tucker after receiving that vicious, dirty hit from Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu?

Feel free to comment if you do because I’d love to hear why you feel bad for him because in my mind, I find it very difficult to muster up any sort of sympathy for him because when you play the game the way he’s chosen to over his 16 seasons in the NHL, eventually someone’s going to get you.  Sure, you love the hell out of a guy like Tucker when he’s on your team but the second he’s gone you’d like him out of the league one way or the other.  Just ask Michael Peca.

I’m fighting every urge in me to stay quiet about this entire thing because absolutely nothing good will come out of this, but it’s the elephant in the room.  Tuomo Ruutu lays a dirty hit on an unsuspecting player and does disgusting damage to that player… Only issue being that the player he hit is a guy who often times in his career has done the same exact thing numerous times in his career.

Is it justified?  No, certainly not… But I doubt you’d find a jury outside of Denver or Toronto that would convict Tuomo Ruutu for his offense in this case.  What will happen to Ruutu is he will eventually get paid back, more than likely in January when the teams meet again in Raleigh and Tucker will most likely be able to go after him on his own.  You do have to wonder though if hockey karma wasn’t just getting one up on Tucker itself after all the mayhem and ill will he’s brought upon himself over the years for playing the game the way he does.

Everyone has to pay the piper at some point and while Ruutu was completely in the wrong in this situation laying a vile and disgusting hit…  Perhaps the piper was tired of waiting.

Then you’ve got the oranges to Darcy Tucker’s apples on Saturday night when Philadelphia’s Mike Richards laid an absolutely brutal hit on Florida’s David Booth.

David Booth, like Darcy Tucker, was knocked unconscious and carted off the ice on a stretcher. Unlike Tucker’s situation, Richards’ hit on Booth was, by the book, perfectly legal but with great hesitation.  Watch the replay as much as you can stomach and you’ll see that Booth didn’t commit any of the textbook sins that a player who gets destroyed in open ice commits.  He wasn’t skating with his head down all the way, he wasn’t admiring his pass – he was just playing the game – a game that can be violent and dangerous at times, but that doesn’t mean that Mike Richards has to make a hit like that in that situation and both the Panthers and Flyers are doing their best to speak up for themselves, dander up and everything.

For what it’s worth, Richards received a five-minute major for interference which will allow Colin Campbell to spin his Wheel of Justice to see if he wants to send a message for hitting a prone and unsuspecting player or not.  It’s at a time like this where maybe, just maybe, sitting down a high-profile team’s captain down for more than a few games might send the message that the league intends to be serious about protecting its players.

I know it gets mentioned again and again whenever you see a terrifying scene like this unfold where paramedics with stretchers come out to cart a guy off the ice but at some point the NHL needs to jump in to help the players.  Hell, if the NFL has done something in their ultra-fast, ultra-violent sport then perhaps taking a page from their book isn’t the worst plan of action, even if it results in quarterback-like complaints being raised by fans and players.

The problem with the situation with Richards’ hit is that by the books it’s legal and suspending a player for a technically legal hit seems completely backwards.  The problem here is that Booth had no chance to protect himself because by the time he sees Richards coming, he’s already eating his forearm and shoulder.  This is where the NFL tie-in works.  The NFL has start penalizing players in games and fining them after the fact for hitting players who are in a defenseless position.  I’m thinking mostly of wide receivers in this case when safeties or linebackers use the occasion of a pass thrown too high or out of reach to decimate the receiver trying to make the play.

Would it be unreasonable to ask the same of NHL officials?  After all, when the league added the five-minute major for interference it was meant to curb out of the way hits where players would end up injured.  The penalty was semi-correctly called in this instance (it wasn’t textbook interference, but the violence was there), but to say it is a deterrent would be stretching the truth.

Sure the Panthers will get their shot at redemption at Richards a few times this year, but they didn’t even really stand up for Booth tonight so… What then?  The Panthers are now without one of their top players indefinitely and the Flyers will be without their captain for perhaps a few games.  You never know what will happen with that crazy Wheel of Justice.

My problem with it is that Richards has to know better than this, he is the captain of a team after all, even if it is the crazy Flyers.  He has to know that by gunning for a guy in that matter you’re going to be hitting him in the head, unless he’s just a really crappy judge of a guy’s skating speed.  Hitting a moving target is certainly hard enough, but hitting a guy is pretty easy to do when you’re skating as hard as Mike Richards does and he has to know he’ll make a more effective play if he hits him body-on-body rather than body-on-head.  So why does it appear when watching it and taking into effect how it plays out when you’re watching it at full speed that Richards is gunning to hit him up high?  I’m not going to go all Zapruder film on you with this but if Richards’ intent is to hit Booth shoulder-on-shoulder he missed badly.

What does anyone learn out of this anyway?  At this point, nothing at all, just keep playing the same old way because there’s no need to rock the boat.  Both Ruutu and Richards did wrong here, one more obviously so than the other.  One guy did so by the book while the other guy burned the book on Darcy Tucker’s doorstep while the neighbors all are secretly happy he did so since he’s had it coming to him for a while.  Does it make any of this any better?  Not in the least because you’ve got two guys out of action thanks to unnecessary head shots.  Perhaps Mark Messier better get a move on with his new helmet to help players out.

Better yet, perhaps the players can just have a little bit more respect for each other on the ice and not look to kill each other whenever they’re given the opportunity whether it’s by the rules or not.

Update: Mike Richards will not suspended by the NHL for his hit.  With me not having my wits about me and forgetting that Colin Campbell’s son plays for the Panthers, I forgot that he cannot hand down a punishment.  Instead, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly got to spin the Wheel of Justice and it came up “zero games” for Flyers captain Mike Richards.   I’m not entirely surprised by this considering it was a legal check, but chalk it up as another blown opportunity for the league to start sending a message to the players.

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