Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Around the Rinks: Kunitz the new Cooke?

Colin Campbell is a busy man these days!

The NHL’s head disciplinarian kicked off the 2011 playoffs by handing out a couple of early suspensions to LA’s Jarret Stoll (one game) and Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan (two games). He followed that up by deciding not to suspend Vancouver’s Raffi Torres for a controversial hit on Sunday night (even though Torres probably deserved at least a game or two), which drew the ire of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Well, after Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, it looks like he’s got another couple of decisions to make! Tampa’s Steve Downie and Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz will both be hearing from the league on Tuesday, though my guess is that Kunitz will be the one facing a ban for his actions. (Scroll down for the update...)

Let’s start with the Downie hit on Ben Lovejoy: The Pens defenseman gets the puck behind his net and sends it around the boards just as Downie comes flying in with a crunching check, leaving his feet in the process. The funny thing is, Lovejoy’s pass finds Max Talbot, who goes up the ice and scores on the delayed penalty!

Does that hit remind you of anything? For his part, Lovejoy didn’t seem too bothered after the game, a 3-2 Pens win, telling the St. Petersburg Times that it was a “good” hit:

“I knew it was coming. You have to be aware when [Downie] is on the ice. It was a good hit, though I haven’t seen (a replay). He certainly didn’t get me in the head. He put his shoulder right into my chest. I knew it was going to be a hit like that. It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

The NHL didn’t suspend Raffi Torres, so they probably shouldn’t suspend Steve Downie here. Yes, he appears to leave his feet, but according to Lovejoy, he still managed to go shoulder-to-chest. If the league suspends him, it will only make it more difficult for players and fans alike to figure out what the heck is allowed and what isn’t!

As for Chris Kunitz, he should be suspended for what was a pretty nasty elbow on Simon Gagne.

After losing the puck on his way to the front of the Pens net, Gagne tastes the elbow pad of Kunitz, who stretches out and only makes contact with the head of the Bolts forward. Not only is it a blatant elbow (right in front of the ref), but Gagne doesn’t even have the puck!

Is there a precedent for suspending this type of hit, you ask?

In the last six weeks, five players have been suspended a total of 21 games for hitting opponents with elbows to the head and another guy was slapped with a fine!

Kunitz’s teammate Matt Cooke sat 10 games plus the first round of the playoffs for a hit on NY Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, while Pavel Kubina, Brad Marchand and Dany Heatley were all suspended 2-3 games for elbows to the head as well. Raffi Torres got four games for an elbow to the head of Jordan Eberle and Patric Hornqvist escaped with a $2,500 fine for a hit on Boston’s Tyler Seguin.

If the NHL doesn’t suspend Kunitz for this hit, they’ve completely lost the plot.

What do you think: Should the NHL start throwing the book at players who continue to target the head?

[UPDATE: Okay, so the NHL gave each player a one game suspension today – believe it or not I disagree with at least one of those calls. In the case of Steve Downie, he’s been in trouble before (but not recently), so I’m not overly surprised that he’d get at least a game. When it comes to Kunitz though, I’m disappointed. Here’s a guy who goes out of his way to throw an obvious elbow at the face of an opposing player, which could even be seen as a sort of retaliation for the Downie hit, and he escapes with one game? The league looked serious about this type of play for almost two whole months! If thet gave him one game because we’re in the playoffs, they should consider that guys like Kunitz aren’t treating it like the playoffs! There are at least two games left in the series, he should have been given at least two!]

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