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Mike Richards’ “Minor” Hit Deserved A “Major” Reaction, But Got Nothing

04/25/11
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What did happen: Mike Richards accused the Sabres of getting away with murder, then himself committed mass murder when he boarded the living daylights out of Tim Connolly and sat for 2 minutes as punishment.

What should have happened: Mike Richards should’ve been given 5 minutes and a game misconduct for boarding, which would have found him shaking his head with regret in the visitors’ dressing room as the Sabres eliminated the Flyers from the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs instead of assisting on two series-changing goals.

Wait, what? Strap yourselves in, folks, because this is a long one.


With 6:09 remaining in the second period of game 6, Mike Richards grabbed Tim Connolly around the shoulders, rode him for a few feet, and intentionally drove the center’s head and shoulders into the plastic dasher at the top of the corner boards.

Jump to :03 in and watch the hit from three different angles at three different speeds.

Tim Connolly would skate off the ice under his own power but would not return to the game. He’s already been ruled out of participating in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series’ pivotal game 7 with a rumored shoulder injury and no timetable has been set for his return to the lineup. The only thing that saved Connolly from a possible career-ending concussion was his right hand, which he raised at the last moment to pad the impact. He should be lucky he didn’t fracture one of his vertebrae, which is something James Mirtle fears is a definite possibility

Mike Richards would be assessed a two minute minor for boarding. He would then assist on the Flyers’ game-tying and game-winning goals. After the game, he was hurried out of the arena before reporters could ask him about his hit. From The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell:

Did we really expect the league to suspend the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers for a Game 7, even if his egregious hit from behind on Tim Connolly deserved just that? How that penalty was not a major and a game misconduct boggles the mind and what made it even more distasteful was the fact Richards went on to assist both the tying and winning goals at a time when he shouldn’t have even been on the ice.

That’s right – the NHL’s disciplinary staff decided intentionally injuring another player isn’t a suspendable offense. What the league’s disciplinarians say, however, differs from the rulebook they’re supposed to cull their decisions from.

From the NHL’s rulebook, here is Rule 41.1 – Boarding:

41.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who
checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be
thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon
the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the
discretion of the Referee.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the
application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player
applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable
position and if so, he must avoid the contact. However, there is also a
responsibility on the player with the puck to avoid placing himself in a
dangerous and vulnerable position. This balance must be considered
by the Referees when applying this rule.
Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an
obvious “icing” or “off-side” play which results in that player being
knocked into the boards is “boarding” and must be penalized as such.
In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should
be treated as “charging.”

The rulebok differentiates, as it does on many fouls, between minor, major, and match penalties based upon different factors surrounding the foul. These differentiations are:

41.2 Minor Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor
penalty, based on the degree of violence of the impact with the
boards, to a player guilty of boarding an opponent.

41.3 Major Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major
penalty, based on the degree of violence of the impact with the
boards, to a player guilty of boarding an opponent (see 41.5).

41.4 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 boarding.

Rule 41.5, as referenced by 41.3 above, is:

41.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – When a major penalty is imposed under
this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an
opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.

At the loosest application of the rulebook, Mike Richards’ boarding should’ve warranted at least a major penalty and game misconduct (Ed. note: So I was wrong about the misconduct rule. Turns out it should’ve been given a match penalty for attempting to injure with a boarding foul). At the strictest and most literal application of the rulebook, Richards’ boarding should’ve been assessed a match penalty for a foul causing injury. In the instance of a boarding major being called, Richards would’ve been ejected for the game and open to supplemental discipline. In the instance of a match penalty, Richards would’ve been ejected and definitely subject to supplemental discipline.

This is Richards’ second suspendable offense in this series alone, the first being the embedded-below intentional elbow to the face of noted baby-eater Patrick Kaleta:

At 1:43 of the above-embedded video, Richards can be clearly seen raising his elbow to strike Kaleta in the face instead of absorbing the incoming hit with his shoulder. For his elbow, Richards was assessed a major penalty under rule 45.3:

45.3 Major Penalty – A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee,
shall be imposed on any player who uses his elbow to foul an
opponent. A major penalty must be imposed under this rule for a foul
resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent (see 45.5).

The thing is, intentionally elbowing another player in the face – surprise! – should be assessed a match penalty, quoted from the NHL rulebook below as rule 45.4:

45.4 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 elbowing.

That’s twice in one series alone that Mike Richards deliberately attempted to injure an opponent, once with an elbow to the face and another with a shove into the boards, and succeeded once. In each instance, the black and white ruling on the play should’ve resulted in Richards being assessed match penalties for intent to injure. In this situation, Richards would be subject to additional discipline. He has received, and will continue to receive, none (more on that later).

Lost in all of this is the NHL’s oft-ignored checking from behind penalty, aka Rule 43.1:

43.1 Checking from Behind – A check from behind is a check delivered
on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to
protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the
body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with
his back, no penalty shall be assessed.

Was Tim Connolly unable to protect himself from the impending hit? Check. Did he not intentionally turn his body to create contact with his back? Check. Sounds like a clear-cut case of checking from behind to me. Let’s take a look at the minor, major, and match penalty variants on this foul:

43.2 Minor Penalty – There is no provision for a minor penalty for checking
from behind.

No provision for a minor penalty to be called? Uh oh.

43.3 Major Penalty – Any player who cross-checks, pushes or charges
from behind an opponent who is unable to protect or defend himself,
shall be assessed a major penalty. This penalty applies anywhere on
the playing surface (see 43.5).

43.4 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 checking from behind.

The options left to a referee who assesses a checking from behind call are a major or match penalty, which both result in ejection from the current game (a major, by way of a game misconduct). The interesting thing here is that the NHL’s referees seemingly refuse to call the checking from behind penalty, as noted by Mirtle:

He even went so far as to link a story he wrote in 2010 about the dearth of checking from behind calls following Marian Hossa’s infamous hit on Dan Hamhuis in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, in which he references the checking from behind crackdown he tweeted about.

All of what has already been covered exists in black and white; in read-only ink or type. There are two gray areas that exist, however: the discretion of the referees and the pervading spectre of player status affecting discipline.

At every juncture above a minor penalty, the referee’s discretion is called into play when assessing either a major or match penalty. Major penalties are rarely called, and match penalties even less than that. There is an air of “let them play” that still permeates the National Hockey League and part of that is a seeming reluctance on the part of the on-ice officials to call penalties as severe as replays show them to be or to even call certain fouls in the playoffs or on players of a certain status at all.

The referees and linesmen “swallowing their whistles” is at the forefront as calling interference has gone out the window. Defenders are allowed to tie up forechecking players who dump the puck in almost unabated. In another instance of swallowing the whistle, it was especially highlighted by Jarret Stoll not being penalized for his hit on Ian White in the first game of Western Conference quarterfinal series between the his Kings and the Sharks.

Later, Stoll would be suspended for one game for the hit. Meanwhile, Richards – his team’s captain, a marketable player, and an individual lauded by the hockey punditry for his style – was merely called for a minor and will not be suspended at all for his injurious hit. While the on-ice official did assess a penalty on the play, the spectre of player status affecting discipline reared its ugly head yet again. A captain of a big-market team with game-changing talent was not given any deserving supplemental punishment by a league known to exempt star players (minus Alexander Ovechkin’s short suspension last season, but there was no avoiding that). The league’s decision mirrored the conclusion that TSN’s panel of analysts, comprised of some very respected former players and coaches, arrived at the night of the play. TSN’s chief analyst, Bob McKenzie, actually previously lauded Richards’ decision to elbow Kaleta, saying he would have done the same.

You read that right – he would have intentionally driven his elbow into the face of an incoming player despite being an illegal play. This is the kind of punditry that is held in the highest regard by the majority of hockey fans. This isn’t just coming from the dinosaur analyst élite, either. Elliotte Friedman pointed out today in his 30 Thoughts column that he was privy to a coach instructing his players to do the same thing to other skaters:

20) One NHL coach said two months ago he told his players to react exactly as Mike Richards did when Patrick Kaleta charged at him in Game 5 of Buffalo/Philly. “Put your elbow or stick up and take a minor,” he said. “Don’t kill the guy, but I’d be happy to take a penalty rather than see you get a concussion.” Richards got a major.

In a world where headshots and concussion are the hot-to-trot subject in both the media and league board rooms, hypocrisy runs rampant throughout television broadcasts and during game-time intermissions. Innumerable talking heads will preach the need to call these hits, whether by villain or by veteran, then turn the other cheek to endorse the kind of violence that is caused brain damage to Bob Probert and defending star players who dole it out. At the same time, the NHL’s continued employment of a former reckless goon (league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, he of compromised impartiality) as the man relied upon to hand out just and lawful punishment, is in a way a league-wide stamp of approval of disregard for player health.

A big part of the problem is the way the rules are written. There is too much left open to the interpretation of individuals in power. Fouls of a dangerous and injurious nature need to be re-written so as to remove the referee’s discretion, call for harsher punishment, and hopefully lead to a crackdown on plays of that nature. Until that happens, I don’t want to hear a single NHL or NHLPA (both bodies have refused strong penalty reform in the past) executive say again they’re concerned with player safety because it is an abject crock of shit.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. 04/25/11 10:11 PM

    And bringing you the first constructive and intelligent comment…

    If you watch college hockey, you’ll see hitting from behind called a lot more often. That was one of the things that always puzzled me when I started watching the NHL, that those kind of hits happen a dozen times a game and might get called once every five games.

  2. Chris permalink
    04/26/11 8:10 AM

    I’m confused. In the boarding section it says that game misconducts are for injuries to the head and face, and you say that if Richards had gotten a major penalty he would have gotten a misconduct. But wasn’t it Connolly’s shoulder that was injured?

    In general, I think your analysis is unconvincing, because you cite rule after rule that says “the referee, at his discretion” and then say that such-and-such must have happened or must have happened at the very least. If you review the referees decisions for an abuse of his discretion, I don’t think you can say that happened here. In both instances, a foul was committed and the referee called the foul.

    • 04/26/11 11:33 AM

      You’re right. Attempting to or actually injuring someone with a boarding call is worthy of a match penalty. I actually played that one down.

  3. Justin permalink
    04/26/11 10:06 AM

    I hope I’m right in saying he’ll wish he was suspended for tonight, as I expect Kaleta to stick up for his teammate and send a message to Richards that the way he plays the game doesn’t fly in Buffalo.

  4. james permalink
    04/26/11 12:25 PM

    kaleta made contact with richards. richard got his elbow up, but certainly didnt drive it into kaletas face. kaleta had the opportunity to avoid the contact, but instead initiated it. its worthy of a minor, but no more. the same goes for the connolly hit. the rules state the onus is on connolly not to put himself in a dangerous position. if he doesnt have his head down, he wouldnt have gotten hurt. again worthy of a minor, but no more.

    • 04/26/11 12:28 PM

      Kindly watch the replays again. Just prior to contact, Richards put the elbow up to intercept Kaleta in the face. When he hit Connolly, Richards had already knocked Connolly off-balance by grabbing him around the shoulders and pushing him prior to the boarding foul.

  5. Mike permalink
    04/26/11 1:19 PM

    You’re consistently assuming “intent to injure, which clearly is not the case. In the Kaleta incident, Richards throws his arm up in self defense and it catches Kaleta in the face. Overall, stupid play by Richards because he ended up getting himself tossed when, if he kept his arm down, Kaleta would’ve been in the box for charging. Self defense, not intent to injure. It’s a lot different than if they happened to be skating next to each other and Richards swung an elbow for no reason.

    There’s a huge difference between the Stoll hit and the Richards hit. Stoll was suspended because he made direct contact with the opponents head and drove it into the boards. Connolly’s head fell into the boards because he had it down, but Richards never made any contact with Connolly’s head. I believe that’s the single reason why Stoll was suspended and Richards isn’t. It’s the case of targeting the head.

    • Mike permalink
      04/26/11 1:51 PM

      I take back the part about that being the single reason there was no suspension, but I do believe it was the main reason. There’s also the fact that Richards backed off of the hit. If he finished his hit, he would have driven Connolly into the boards and probably broken his neck…that would have been intent to injure. Richards started to hit Connolly and gave him a good shove, but bailed out in the end and let Connolly fall into the boards.

      Normally, to finish a hit, you want to drive a player into the boards and pin him, which actually somewhat protects the player getting hit because it spreads the impact over a larger area of his body and prevents him from bouncing back off the boards. In this instance, with Connolly being bent over instead of upright, if Richards had tried to do this, he only would have hurt Connolly a lot worse. It was still a bad hit, but from the position Connolly was in, Richards could have done a lot more damage if there was intent to injure.

  6. goodgravy permalink
    04/26/11 1:27 PM

    Keep the whining going! Soon you’ll have several months to ruminate on what could have been……Richards is a clean player, Kaleta took a very late run at him, the puck already gone, and Richards was trying to protect himself…I mean, THE GUY WAS COMPLETELY STATIONARY…..and the injury to Connelly, while unfortunate, wasn’t exactly Bertuzzi trying to kill a guy a few years back……tough darts…….

  7. sabre chazz permalink
    04/26/11 2:07 PM

    are you people off your collective rockers??? richards is the queen bee of complaining. after he was properly assesed the elbow major on kaleta, all he did the rest of the game was piss and moan to officials. my biggest hope for game seven is that lindy doesnt start kaleta….. for kaletas own good because he would end up being driven through the glass and kindly deposited in the seats. miller is dead right. for the bobblehead act richards pulled the final twenty five minutes of game four, absolutely no call should go his way. connolly hit was way more eggregious. dont stoop to richards level. just send the goon packing his golf bag.

    • sabre chazz permalink
      04/26/11 2:11 PM

      To clarify, kaleta would be depositing Richards into the seats. Or maybe even throw him all the way to the 50 yard line @ the linc.

  8. buck_fuffalo permalink
    04/26/11 11:10 PM

    james mirtle’s a fucking pussy…fuck buffalo!

  9. buck_fuffalo permalink
    04/26/11 11:11 PM

    good game buffalo (lol)…miller got bitched by leino and ruff was defeated after the 2nd intermission

  10. Mike permalink
    04/27/11 1:29 PM

    Here’s the take of former NHL referee Kerry Fraser:

    So in Game 6 in Buffalo, Tim Connolly had the inside position, and as Mike Richards came in after the puck, he wrapped his arm around Connolly and rode him into the boards. Connolly went head-first in and Richards got two-minutes for boarding. How would you have called it and why?

    Craig,

    Hamilton, Ontario

    Thanks for your question Craig: To answer your question we need to examine the language of two rules that might have been considered on the play; Rule 41 Boarding and Rule 43 Checking from Behind.

    Rule 43 – Checking from Behind: “A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to defend himself…” Stop here; this rule doesn’t apply because Tim Connolly not only should have known he had the potential for back pressure in that situation but felt the hand contact from Mike Richards some distance from the boards. At this point Mike Richards applied a push (as opposed to driving Connolly right to the boards with arm pressure as we saw in the one game suspension to Jarret Stoll hit for his hit on Ian White.). Evidence of the fact that Tim Connolly was able to raise his right arm to “defend” against the blow, even though his head contacted the boards clearly takes this hit out of the Check from Behind category which would have resulted in an automatic five-minute major penalty and game misconduct.

    Rule 41-Boarding: “A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of he penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

    There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable position and if so, he must avoid the contact. However, there is also a responsibility on the player with the puck to avoid placing himself in a dangerous and vulnerable position. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.”

    So the judgment to be exercised here by the referee will take into account all of these factors along with the distance from the boards where the contact was initiated along with the degree of violence that resulted to determine whether a minor or major penalty will be assessed. Given the distance from the boards allowing for an arm to raise in defense against contact with the boards along the position that Tim Connolly placed himself in (straight vs. angle to boards) in addition to the push by Richards vs. a driving finish of the check to the boards I would concur with the minor penalty that was assessed on the play.

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