At this point, what requires supplementary discipline? Apparently, the NHL Department Of Player Safety remains inconsistent on dangerous hits like the one Senators forward Zack Smith delivered on Rangers center Derek Stepan in the second period of Saturday’s game in Ottawa.
Smith’s shoulder to an unsuspecting Stepan was the latest blindside hit that went without punishment. There have been enough replays. He caught a defenseless player with a high hit with shoulder to chin making head contact. Ruled a “two-minute interference minor” by refs Greg Kimmerly and Brad Meier, Smith didn’t get off easy with Chris Kreider immediately responding to a fallen teammate by pounding him into submission earning a instigator, fighting major and misconduct.
Maybe that was enough justice in the NHL’s view. But aren’t hits like Smith’s supposed to be under the radar? Stepan returned and finished the game after undergoing medical evaluation. He played last night in a Rangers 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs even scoring on an 86-footer that eluded Jonathan Bernier. Should his health be the underlying factor in why Smith faced no fine or suspension?
There’s a clear double standard when it comes to league discipline. They are still letting go of blindside hits that can cause serious damage. If a player is hurt, it usually is a determining factor. The other is reputation. During his seven-year NHL career, Smith has never been fined or suspended. He’s a physical player who takes the body. There’s no complaint about that. Most players do. Hits are allowed. But there’s a difference between good and bad. There needs to be more consistency from the NHL on what crosses the line.
According to TSN, already 16 NHL players have suffered concussions. Carolina defenseman Ryan Murphy became the 16th. That is the physical nature of the sport. It’s why the league must do a better job. Not every injury can be prevented. At times, hockey can be vicious. Look no further than the melee that occurred over the weekend between Winnipeg and Nashville. They combined for 156 penalty minutes.
When it comes to dangerous hits that put players at risk, the league must do better when it comes to protecting its players. The only way to educate them is by having a zero tolerance policy. Stiffer penalties and more suspensions would send a clear message. Otherwise, nothing will change.