NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations, Mike Murphy handed down a 4-game suspension to Bruins forward Daniel Paille for his high blindside hit on Dallas Stars forward Raymond Sawada in the second period of last night's 6-3 Bruins' win. Paille was hit with a 5 minute major for an illegal check to the head and a match penalty (which was later downgraded to a game misconduct).
Word out of Dallas is that Sawada sustained a separated shoulder and a broken nose as a result of the check by Paille.
There is no question that this was an illegal hit to the head by Daniel Paille and a suspendable offense and I don't think anyone except Jack Edwards is making an argument otherwise. Unfortunately, for Paille his offense came at a time when the NHL needs to show the sports world that they care about preventing head injuries and protecting their players. We have seen much more egregious hits in recent memory go unpunished (see: Cooke, Matt), but the NHL cannot afford to continue to send the wrong message to its players and fans. It is time that the NHL cracks down on this type of hit and if Daniel Paille has to sit in the press box for the next 4 games, then so be it.
Let's take a look at Rule 48, which deals with hits to the head a see if this check by Paille falls into that description:
Rule 48 - Illegal Check to the Head
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.
48.2 Minor Penalty - There is no provision for a minor penalty for this rule.
48.3 Major Penalty - For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).
48.4 Game Misconduct – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.
48.5 Match Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.
48.6 Fines and Suspensions – Any player who incurs a total of two (2) game misconducts under this rule, in either regular League or playoff games, shall be suspended automatically for the next game his team plays. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game.
If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).
To me, the key part of that rule is "principal point of contact". In my opinion it was a lateral hit where the the head was the principal point of contact. Only Daniel Paille knows for sure if the head was targeted, but he can all see that he did make contact with Raymond Sawada's head on a lateral check. My guess is that the match penalty was rescinded after the game because the referees could not reasonably determine that there was an intent to injure (again only Daniel Paille knows for sure).