Monday the league has scheduled a phone call with Brad Marchand on his hit to Sami Salo during Saturday's meeting of last year's Stanley Cup finalists. The hit was called clipping during the game and due to Salo sustaining an injury on the play, Marchand was automatically given a 5 minute major and a game misconduct. The hit changed the tone of the game and lead to the Canucks taking over with 2 power play goals. Now the Bruins might take another blow from it as Brad could see up to a 5 game suspension.
Let's take a closer look at this instance though. The call on the ice was clipping. According to NHL.com, the rule is as follows:
44.1 Clipping - Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.
A player may not deliver a check in a "clipping" manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.
An illegal "low hit" is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his knees. A player may not lower his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s knees.
44.2 Minor Penalty - A player who commits these fouls will be assessed a minor penalty for "clipping."
44.3 Major Penalty - If an injury occurs as a result of this "clipping" check, the player must be assessed a major penalty(see 44.5).
44.4 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 by clipping.
44.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - A game misconduct penaltymust be assessed anytime a major penalty is applied for injuring an opponent by clipping.
44.6 Fines and Suspensions – There are no specified fines or suspensions for clipping, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule28).
So let's look at what the call is for: Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.
Additionally we have that a player may not deliver a check in a "clipping" manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.
While Marchand did lower his body, the hit is not at the knees of his opponent.
Brad Marchand clipping Sami Salo!!! Good hit or not... (via MrBusterwilly)
s both players come at the puck, Marchand drops as if to spring into a check while Salo stays high looking for the hit and not to play the puck. As Salo goes to catch Marchand high, he turns and in doing so puts his backside facing Marchand. Marchand stays low and as if sitting and flipping on a rail, Salo goes over the top. Upon hitting the ice, he hurts his shoulder.
Compared to the rules for clipping, the play comes up short. While Marchand is low, he doesn't make contact with the knees of Salo. The turning of Salo makes him go over the top as the back of his thigh makes contact with Marchand's Torso. Some may call this submarining or table topping Salo.
At this point there is no penalty against a submarine hit. Going low to avoid a hit or turning is considered fair game- a player coming in to make contact with another player is at risk for taking or missing a hit still. Claude Julien has even pointed out that this strategy may aid in reducing the major issue in the NHL- shots to the head, as players need to be more cautious when going in for huge hits that can cause concussions and long term damage to the player being targeted. The move is nothing new and can be seen as recently as this year by the Canuck's themselves:
2011 Stanley Cup Finals: Dan Hamhuis Hip Check on Milan Lucic Game 1 (via NHLHockey95)
If that's the case, then why the call on the ice? Checking the replay once more we can see that the ref's arm is going into the air prior to Salo going down. In one way, this is a good thing- the call is being made regardless of the injury. The rule book is properly interpreted for the call- if it is clipping, a 5 minute major and game misconduct should be assessed. The call on the ice was the wrong call though as outlined above. It's not clipping- the ref interpreted it as such though, most likely to 'maintain control of the game'.
This is an issue. Going into a game there should not be the need for refs to change the way they officiate. Strong arming a game leads to changes in outcome as seen in this one. Having refs able to make such a strong impact on a game is a serious threat to the quality of the product and the trust fans have in the results. The past few seasons have seen a decrease in respect for NBA officiating between scandal and the way games are called; when superstars are given calls whenever they shoot or cry, officiating becomes less valid. It becomes a means for the stars of the league to get an additional benefit to their skill, not the evening out of play coming from an injustice caused on the ice.
With the increase of diving, faking injury and the push of a strategy that relies on the power play for success, the league has a serious issue at hand. If anything that causes an injure is deemed unacceptable and reason for a penalty/suspension, then how does the league keep the game's credibility? How do we keep the game from becoming one dominated by guys who only look to draw or fake a call when playing 5 on 5 so that they can make things happen with the man advantage? How does the league keep referees from taking over a game because they're nervous about it getting out hand and let them start calling extra calls that ruin the credibility of the game? How do they do all of this while still maintaining an environment safe enough that its quality of product is not drastically reduced due to injury to its best players?
Back to the play for a minute: it's hard to look at the play and believe it's not a dangerous play. Marchand gets Salo in a manner that results in him flipping over and making hard contact with his head/shoulder to the ice. To a guy that has been as injury plagued as Salo, this isn't what you want to happen. Can the league go forward with suspending him though?
Shanahan taking over disciplinary rulings in the NHL was an attempt to remove bias and eyebrow raising for the rulings coming down from Campbell. The league additionally made an effort to clarify their rulings on head shots and put in place criteria reducing the amount of grey space and interpretation required to make a call. If Marchand's hit is deemed as not actually clipping, can it then be suspension worthy? Does injury itself now mean that a player is automatically given a hearing to see if they should be suspended?
The amount of grey space that could come from this is more than the NHL can take on at this point. If they do decide that submarining a player is something that needs to be removed from the game then the 'legislative' branch needs to get together and put in place the correct rules to do so. It's not up to Shanahan's discretion as to if this is a dirty play and to make a ruling to set precedence. If he does so then the integrity of the league will take a blow.
The mood over this situation in Boston currently is gloom- many believe Marchand will receive some time off due to the hit and there's a good chance he will (as the league has already setup a call to discuss it). The blow of losing Marchand could effect the Bruins (though they've proven so far that they have the depth to overcome hurdles). The blow that suspending Marchand could do to the league's integrity is more worrisome though and hopefully they come out with a decision and information that not only helps make the league a safer one but also let's fans continue to believe in it's judgement.