"First thing is that the league better do something about that hit. It's everything that you want to take away from the game. Hit to the head, forward motion and it's a goaltender on top. That happens in the playoffs and your goalie has to come out of the net, they better do something about that and take care of business." Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault post-game remarks on MSG
Ask The Ref?
There is no doubt that the league (Stephane Quintal and his Department of Player Safety) will do something about the devastating, illegal hit that Cody Eakins of the Dallas Stars delivered to the head of NY Rangers goalkeeper Hendrik Lundqvist in the Rangers 2-0 win last night. The million dollar question is what value will they place on the ultimate suspension.
As a basic guideline, the DPS utilizes previous decisions rendered on similar situations to determine if a suspension is warranted - and if so, how many game suspension should be assessed. Those numbers can be also be affected by potential injury sustained on the play; or if a player is deeded to be a repeat offender.
In my opinion, Eakin's deliberate hit on Lundqvist is the most egregious offense of charging a goalkeeper that I have seen in modern day. The previously set suspension bar of three (3) games should not apply given the specific actions of Eakin, including the violence of the elevated, deliberate check resulting in significant contact to the head of Lundqvist. Let's examine some of the most recent history as to how the suspension bar was set.
The parameters changed after Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres was felled by a hard open-ice shoulder check delivered by Boston Bruins player Milan Lucic in a race for a loose puck, Nov. 12, 2011. A two minute charging minor penalty was assessed to Lucic on the play and no suspension was imposed by then Department of Player Safety head, Brendan Shanahan.
With his star goalie knocked out the lineup with a concussion, Sabres then coach Lindy Ruff claimed that it was "open season on goalies," given the fact that Lucic was given a free pass. I wrote in a C'mon Ref article on TSN.ca that any deliberate attempt to run over or deliver a full body check on a goalkeeper should be met with a 5 minute major and game misconduct penalty for charging. In addition I proposed that a three (3) game suspension should be imposed.
The timing of both the Lucic-Miller incident and my column coincided with the HHOF Induction Weekend where an annual meeting of the team general managers and Hockey Operations took place. Following this meeting it was reported by Shanahan that the consensus and direction from the GM's was that suspensions must be imposed for incidents such as Lucic' hit on MILLER.
In the very first game that Miller returned to action following recovery from his concussion like symptoms, JordIn Tootoo, while playing for the Nashville Predators charged through the side of the crease and jumped into the air, rolling overtop of Miller. Ryan Miller didn't wait for the referee to impose the eventual five minute major and game misconduct. Instead the sensitive goalie took matters into his own hands (literally beyond figuratively) and began wailing away on Tootoo with his 'waffle' and catching glove before the Sabres players jumped onto the pile to get their licks in as well. Beyond the major and game misconduct penalties assessed by the referee in the game, Shanahan suspended the Nashville player for three games.
The precedent setting standard was further adhered to during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes in a game April 14 when Andrew Shaw ran out of space behind the net and collided with the head of goalkeeper Mike Smith and was imposed a suspension for the Hawks next three playoff games.
What is distinctly different in Shaw's contact with Smith is that the former Hawks player did not launch himself into the goalkeeper nor did it appear that he intentionally intended to deliver a hit on Smith as Eakins did on Lundqvist.
If the punishment were to fit the crime then I would suggest that a three game suspension to Cody Eakin sends the entirely wrong message. Not less than less than five games would be a much more appropriate precedent for any deliberate illegal hit on a goalkeeper of this nature.
If it's anything less than 5 games, we might hear current Stars coach Lindy Ruff question whether it's once again, "open season on goalkeepers?"