The Boston Bruins will be without one of their veteran leaders for the rest of this week’s games due to a suspension. Was it the right call?
The Boston Bruins are no stranger to NHL Department of Player Safety involvement. Having Brad Marchand on the team has gotten fans somewhat accustomed news of a DPS hearing. But the most recent transgression leading to DPS calling was not committed by the “Little Ball of Hate,” but by veteran forward David Backes.
In the first period of Tuesday’s game with the Detroit Red Wings, Backes attempted to land a body check on Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen. Backes’ shoulder appeared to catch Nielsen’s chin, which stunned the Dane, dropping him to the ice. Backes was assessed a 2 minute roughing penalty, and Nielsen did not return to the game.
Bruins fans learned the next day that Backes would be having a phone hearing with DPS, which was no surprise. But the shocker came when we learned that Backes was being suspended for THREE games for the hit. Here is the NHL’s explanation for the suspension:
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As you can see, the hit did not look particularly violent in nature, or with intent to hit the head or injure Nielsen. There’s no dispute that Backes’ shoulder contacted Nielsen’s head and came late. And the NHL has basically adopted a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hits to the head…or so they say.
Inconsistency is the only constant
Some fans may be up-in-arms about the fact that there was no suspension for Charlie McAvoy getting absolutely run in the face by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist. However, that hit was different. McAvoy was a bit hunched over with his head down, and Hornqvist attempted to lay a solid body check without extending upwards towards McAvoy’s head.
What really grinds MY gears is that Backes himself was the victim of a nearly identical hit by Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie in January. That hit was more violent in nature and came just as late as the Backes hit on Nielsen. The principal point of contact was not the head, but Ritchie’s shoulder appeared to make significant contact with Backes’ head. Take a look for yourself:
Not only did Ritchie not get a penalty on the play, but DPS took no action against Ritchie. Just like Backes on Nielsen, Ritchie made contact with Backes’ head. Backes was injured on the play. But here is the kicker than upsets me the most. As indicated in the suspension video, Backes in 848 career NHL games, has NO history of discipline from the NHL.
Ritchie on the other hand, in his 155 NHL games (at the time of the Bruins game in January), had already been suspended once. He was given a 2 game suspension last April for sucker-punching then-Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival. So Ritchie has a history with DPS, and in fact, given his suspension was in April of 2017, would have been classified as a repeat offender.
Look at the other suspensions doled out this season. Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals was given a 4 game suspension for a violent boarding, technically his 2nd of the 2017-2018 year if you included preseason. He was a repeat offender. Heck, the Bruins own Brad Marchand, a repeat offender (and some would argue regular offender), was given 5 games for an elbow that injured Marcus Johansson.
I hoped the hiring of former NHL pugilist George Parros as the head of DPS would breathe some fresh air into the office, and bring some real world insight and consistency into supplemental discipline. However, given the Backes suspension and the current state of affairs, the fine and suspension landscape in the league appears as inconsistent as ever.