Tabatha Patterson The Hockey Writers
John Klingberg Injury Begs Questions Regarding Player Safety
Suffering from a rash of injuries across recent games, the Stars found themselves down a defenseman two games in a row. After leaving the game against Tampa Bay on Saturday night with a lower body injury, John Klingberg returned against the Flyers. This time, Klingberg played victim to Zac Rinaldo’s late hit, taking the rookie defenseman out of the third period with an upper body injury.
Because Rinaldo raced from the Flyers’ bench to check Klingberg, his hit remains questionable regardless of timing. While the NHL Rulebook has a distinct definition of charging, the league punishes offenders based on whether the player took three or more steps without gliding or slowing before hitting an opponent. It is a hit that makes a violent impact as a result of the distance traveled. No call resulted from Rinaldo’s hit, but the Stars lost a valuable player on Tuesday night as a result of an unnecessary action.
Rule 42.1 as defined by the 2014-2015 NHL Rulebook:
Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.
[Related: Hockey 101: Boarding and Charging]
The Issue with “Self-Policing”
While some fans call for greater self-policing between teams, fighting would not have been a smart decision in this situation. The Stars already had six rookie players in the lineup. With Klingberg down, why put another player, especially a high scorer or defenseman, in the box when their team needs them on the ice? In this case, the Stars didn’t get mad, they got even when Vernon Fiddler scored the game-winning goal. A fight that would bench another skater for five minutes of ice time was not the best course of action, even as Rinaldo went unpunished.
[Related: Don’t Blame the Players for Fighting, Blame the Game]
Martin Receives One Game for Kneeing Daley
Before Klingberg’s misfortune, Trevor Daley suffered a knee-on-knee hit from Islanders’ Matt Martin. Martin is also a repeat offender who was suspended twice in his NHL career. While Martin missed one game with his club, Daley will miss weeks of playing time due to the incident. While not malicious, the NHL Department of Player Safety defines the hit as “reckless.” By issuing a one-game suspension on a reckless play by a repeat offender, did the NHL make a statement that illegal checks are not tolerated? Is a one-game suspension significant enough punishment to discourage future illegal checks from Martin or other players?
Kulikov Receives Four Games for Clipping Seguin
Less than one month prior to Daley’s injury, Florida’s Dimitry Kulikov delivered an illegal, open-ice check to Tyler Seguin, clipping the star forward at the knees. While the Department of Player Safety suspended Kulikov for four games, Seguin missed three weeks of play. These 10 games in the press box set Seguin back in the race for both the Art Ross Trophy and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.
To the skaters who make these injurious plays, the benefit of removing a star player from a game can outweigh the impact of a penalty or suspension. This is especially true as the regular season winds down and many teams fight for playoff position.
[Related: Tape2Tape: Kulikov Suspension Raises Age Old Question]
Cheap Plays and Cost-Benefit Analysis
As a result of these injuries, Dallas lost several top players during a crucial point in the regular season. The Stars lost their top scorer, a rare veteran defenseman, and a potential Calder Trophy candidate. With these incidents, Dallas fans are asking whether or not the punishments fit the crimes. Do the lengths of these suspensions dissuade players from making poor decisions and illegal checks, or are they merely a collective slap on the wrist?
If these hits had not continually injured players, their impact on both teams would not be points of contention. Injuries will always be a part of a fast, physical contact sport like hockey. However, as the league attempts to reduce illegal hits and head contact, fans want to know whether the Department of Player Safety is genuinely helping the potential cost to outweigh the benefit of cheap shots.
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