An Evaluation of the Non-Suspension of Marian Hossa


Since Marion Hossa knocked Dan Hamhuis into the boards the afternoon of April 24, the question of whether he should be suspended or not has been debated from up at NBC to messages board like Japers' Rink.  Nearly all of the conversation focused on a comparison between the hit by Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals on Brian Campbell of the Blackhawks back on March 14. 

This comparison is appropriate, for it is an examination of a precedent situation that it deemed to be similar and for which punishment has already been determined.  There is a general notion of fairness in our society that suggests that similar punishment be meted out for similar "crimes."  This FanPost is not intended to be survey of all the discourse on the comparisons, but a separate discussion of the case.

First - the evidence:

Ovechkin's Hit

Hossa's Hit

Some information regarding Ovechkin's hit on Campbell and the rest of his season:

  1. Ovechkin was given a 5-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. 
  2. Campbell broke his collarbone and did not play again until game 4 of the Blackhawks Western Conference Quarterfinal series versus the Predators.  He was absent for just under six weeks.
  3. This was the 3rd ejection for Alex in the 2009-2010 season. On November 25, he received a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding Patrick Kaleta of the Sabres.  Kaleta left the game, but return for the Sabres next game against the Flyers.  On November 30, he received a major penalty and game misconduct for kneeing Tim Gleason of the Hurricanes.  Gleason returned for the Hurricanes next game on December 5 against the Canucks.
  4. Following his penalty against the Hurricanes for his hit on Gleason, Ovechkin received a 2-game suspension from the league office as a "repeat offender." 
  5. As a side note, in the other 69 games in which he played in the regular season, Ovechkin amassed 22 minor penalties for 44 minutes.

Here is some background on Hossa's hit on Hamhuis and his season:

  1. Hossa received a five-minute major for boarding, but no game misconduct.
  2. He received a total of 9 minor penalties for 18 penalty minutes in 51 games.
  3. Hamhius did not return for the remainder of the game.  While he hasn't officially played in Game 6 of the Hawks-Pred's series, he was quoted by as saying, ""I'm fine. I'm a little shaken up."

Ok -- so considering the debate on the two - let's look at what Colin Campbell said in the official announcement that Hossa would not be suspended, in which he clearly, albeit not by name, compares the incident to Ovechkin's:

I have made the decision that this play does not warrant supplemental discipline after considering all of the facts, including reviewing the video and speaking with Mr. Hossa. This play is distinguishable from recent incidents by a number of factors, including the degree of contact involved; the fact that the consequences of the play do not appear to be as severe; that this was a hockey play involving a race for the puck; that Mr. Hossa is not a repeat offender; and that the call of a major penalty by the referee was significant and appropriate.

Let's take each point one-by-one:

Degree of Contact Involved

Campbell must be saying that Hossa had less contact on Hamhuis than Ovechkin had on Campbell.  To me, visual evidence is inconclusive.  Both Hossa and Ovechkin were coming from behind.  Both used outstretched arms to make the hit, as opposed to hitting body-to-body.

Consequences Not as Severe

This would appear to be accurate, if, by "consequences," Campbell means injury.  Hamhuis practiced with the team the day after the hit, while it was known about Campbell's collarbone before the suspension to Ovechkin was meted out.  Some have argued that injuries don't matter; that the hit is what should be viewed.  I find it difficult to disagree with this logic.  However, the injury situation is relevant if that was part of the reason Ovechkin was suspended, and we are looking for equity with that situation.

Play Involving a Race for the Puck

This is a little gray to me.  Ovechkin hit Campbell after Campbell passed the behind him up the boards and visuals clearly show the puck away from Campbell when Ovechkin hits him.  Ovechkin most likely thought Campbell was going to take the puck around the net, rather than pass it, and made a decision to hit him to prevent his progress.  Although the puck is closer to Hamhuis than it was to Campbell, I'm not clear that Hossa was racing to the puck in the sense that he truly had a chance to outskate Hamhuis.  I believe he pushed Hamhuis when it was clear he wouldn't get the puck as a way to dislodge it. 

Not a Repeat Offender

Not even debatable.  Accurate.

Major Penalty by the Referee was Significant and Appropriate

Yes, a major penalty was called in both.  Ovechkin got a game misconduct.  This is where it gets a bit interesting.  According to NHL rule 42.5:

When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a [boarding] foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.

So -- did Campbell hurt his head or face?  Articles appearing afterward confirmed he had a concussion.  Did Hamhuis hurt his head or face?  If he can play in game 6, it's hard to say that he had a severe head injury.  Hamhuis stood up and skated off the ice under his own power.  Campbell was assisted off the ice.

In the end, I think this is a bit of a red herring.  I think that, had the referees given Hossa a game misconduct, Colin Campbell could have said the same exact thing about the appropriateness of the penalty.  Might the existence of a game misconduct have figured into Campbell's decision? Perhaps.  We'll never know.

There is one final factor we haven't considered, and which Campbell doesn't mention -- regular season versus playoffs.  For obvious reasons, Campbell can't allude to that.  In truth, according to the rules, it doesn't matter.  I can't get into Campbell head, but I believe it did matter and was considered.  The damage to the Hawks, one could argue, would be more significant now if Hossa was out than the damage to the Caps for two mid-season games against lowly SE division rivals.  Personally, I do believe it's fair that the threshold for suspension be a bit higher in the playoffs.

So -- in the end, the key differences in my opinion were a) Ovechkin's history, b) Campbell's injury, and c) playoffs versus regular season (even if unspoken).  In my opinion, every other factor cited by Campbell is a wash.  Does that result in a one-game suspension or no-suspension for Hossa?  That's a judgment call.  It seems clear that Campbell didn't want to send a message to Hossa and, arguably, he doesn't need to.  It would also seem like Hossa's punishment indeed should have been less than Ovechkin's.

(Caps fans will point to Donald Brashear's suspension in the 2009 playoffs for his elbow to the head of the Rangers Blair Betts as inequity.  I disagree using the same criteria as above. First, Brashear had just a wee bit of a history.  Second, Betts had a clear concussion.  Third, I don't think the Caps were hurt without him.  Using those factors, Brashear's suspension seems reasonable in comparison with Hossa and Ovechkin.)

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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