When body checking is introduced into minor hockey, the first rule taught is not to hit from behind. This season, the NHL is taking a hard line approach in passing the message along to its players.
Two nights ago in an exhibition game, Jody Shelley of the Philadelphia Flyers drilled Toronto Maple Leafs forward Darryl Boyce from behind. Luckily, Boyce only suffered a broken nose on the play.
Jody Shelley, a repeat offender, received a ten game suspension, and will give up salary of just over $67,000.
Last year Blake Wheeler was on the Boston Bruins when Shelley ran over Bruins’ defenseman Adam McQuaid from behind. While the hit was brutal, he only received a 2 game suspension. This hit was considered when determining how many games Shelly would sit out.
Wheeler was also there when Matt Cooke came across the middle and ended Marc Savard’s career. The issue of illegal hits is something that has affected him personally.
“I was on the team when Mark Savard got hit pretty bad, obviously I’m pretty biased to (stricter suspensions). He was one of the best players in the game, and now he’s not able to play anymore. They’re doing the right things to make an example, so guys are a bit more aware on the ice. It’s a fast game, and some things are kind of tough, but it’s a good step in the right direction.”
Previous NHL Disciplinarian Colin Campbell was criticized heavily throughout the league, and on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show by IC’s Richard Pollock for the lack of consistency shown in his suspensions handed out.
With Brendan Shanahan taking the position of NHL Disciplinarian this season, the players expect to have some consistency in this year’s suspensions. So far, he has been thrown a few softballs, and has received a passing grade.
“He’s setting a precedent, that’s what you want. You want the same rules to apply to everyone, you don’t want a hit that might be questionable go unpunished, and one that looks pretty close to it earn a guy five games. You want to have consistency in the ruling, if that’s the way it is, you will know what will fly and won’t.”
Veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey says that Shanahan is communicating the definition of what is and isn’t legal.
“Matthieu Schneider and Shanny have been working together since the end of last season developing the wording of the rules. Headshots and hitting from behind are two things they are going to focus on. I know they have come up with a plan where there is going to be a staggered meaning to the suspensions. If is your first time you’re not going to get killed, but the second and third times are going to be looked at more severely, and you’re going to pay with your wallet and be away for a while.”
“What I think what was made clear from our meetings in the summer with the PA, the new wording of the rules was going to be strictly gone by, and repeat offenders were going to get hit. I know it heavily weighed that Jody was suspended twice last year, I think that played a big part in it. I think we had a good idea that in a repeat situation it probably isn’t going to be light.”
With a number of devastating headshots and illegal hits occurring over recent years, safety is a topic that has come up frequently. Wheeler says the NHL has taken steps to educate players on what exactly is an illegal hit, and the increased awareness, should lead to some players changing their style.
“You see the video, what’s right, what’s not right, when you’re on the ice things happen so fast sometimes. Things that you don’t want to happen sometimes happen out there. I think the more awareness there is around the league, the more guys are going to start to change some habits. When you see a guy’s back, you can’t touch him, it’s pretty self explanatory now. It’s a fast moving game, but you’ve got to try as hard as you can to be aware. If we’re punishing people, I think you’re going to see some guys try to change their style a little bit.”
Shanahan has communicated guidelines on how suspensions will be handed out. We can only hope that most players now have a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions, and the amount of illegal hits will decrease this season.
Watch below Shanahan’s explanation of how he determined the suspension