After receiving a soft lateral pass in the neutral zone from Jets linemate Mark Scheifele, Patrick Laine was hit with a legal, but thunderous open-ice body check from Buffalo Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe. In the aftermath of the legal check, McCabe was immediately attacked by Scheifele, putting the Sabres on the power play for two minutes. The Jets star rookie forward was carted off the ice and is currently out of the lineup with a concussion. McCabe also went off for repairs but returned with 2:11 remaining to help the Sabres hang on for a 4-3 home-ice win. This is nother example of a player having to defend himself from an attack following a legal body check.
This was historically the time in every NHL schedule that we used to call "Crazy Season". Once the Christmas Holiday season passed and we entered the winter doldrums of mid January thru February, players continued to display the adage that it was much better to "give than receive"- and boy did they ever give! Every referee was forced to write more reports during this short time period than at any other in the entire schedule. Players were just downright ornery. I can't begin to count the number of times that I assumed the duties of a linesman helping separate players in line brawls simply because the linesmen were busy elsewhere.
Regardless as to whether 'crazy season' still applies in today's NHL, one thing I think we can all perhaps agree on is that whenever a player delivers a hard body check - most often a legal one - he better get ready to defend himself because the cavalry will be charging. There is no waiting to see if the referee has his arm up to impose a penalty, but instead immediate retribution is the order of business. Players on the ice seek out the perpetrator who violated the "code" of hitting their teammate - one who placed himself in a vulnerable position. In these instances I guess NHL is interpreted as the acronym for No Hit League?
No one likes to see a player injured; this former referee included. However, it is a contact sport and everyone inside that 200 X 85 foot cage assumes an inherent risk of injury. Players should always expect and receive protection for their safety by virtue of enforcement of the playing rules. Far too often the game receives a black eye when the beauty and art of a good body check is underscored by a wolf pack mentality that is now the norm instead of the exception.
The referees correctly identified the check delivered by McCabe as a legal body check. McCabe kept his skates on the ice and delivered the straight up hit through the body of Laine. Their faces shields did collide through contact which is most likely how McCabe suffered a pretty good cut below his eye and immediately went off for repairs after being jumped by Scheifele.
This play aside, I am equally concerned about the number of times I see players place themselves in vulnerable positions. (On this one, McCabe read the play well but stepped up from an unusually close proximity when Laine received the pass just over the Jets blue line. There was little that Laine could have done differently other than receive the intended pass or perhaps duck and roll?)
I'm talking more specifically about players who show disregard for their own personal safety by turning toward the boards to protect the puck or reversing direction, knowing that they make themselves vulnerable. Let me rephrase, they should know that they are making themselves vulnerable!
I spoke with my good friend Craig Ramsay about this a couple of years ago and he told me he doesn't think players expect to get hit. My colleague and buddy Chris "Knuckles" Nilan said that players don't protect themselves anymore with their elbows or sticks so I guess what Knucks is saying is similar to Rammer. When the puck is on their stick or in the immediate vicinity players should expect to be legally checked.
Players need to be more aware of their environment and take some onus for their own safety - Crazy Season notwithstanding...