The NHL announced Monday that the hit on Colorado Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog by the San Jose Sharks’ Brad Stuart would not be disciplined. A few hours later, the Avalanche announced that Landeskog was out for an undetermined amount of time with a head and leg injury even though he appeared fine playing late in the Sharks game Saturday. The incident once again puts the Brendan Shanahan led NHL disciplinary system in the spotlight, as its ambiguity allows for star players like Landeskog to be at risk.
Brad Stuart is not a dirty player and has only had over 50 penalty minutes twice in his career. However, it seemed obvious looking at the replay that Stuart’s hit on Landeskog was meant to inflict as much damage as possible. Stuart hit Landeskog in the head, leaving his feet to do so as he went in for the collision. Landeskog’s head was down, but I am not one who thinks it is not practical for a player to keep his head up all the time on the ice when searching for a disc three inches in diameter. Landeskog went down and was immediately checked for concussion symptoms before returning to the game.
As for Stuart, he was rewarded for the hit. Not only was he not called for a penalty, but when Landeskog’s teammate Ryan O’Byrne stood up for Landeskog by challenging Stuart to a fight, the Avalanche were penalized. O’Byrne received a double-minor for instigating the fight and wearing a face shield and he received 19 minutes of total penalty time. The Sharks scored their first two goals on the subsequent advantage going on to easily win the game. Ignoring that the Avalanche’s current penalty kill (or lack thereof) is another travesty in the NHL, the Sharks gained a lot more for laying that hit on Landeskog than if it was avoided.
Brendan Shanahan and the league office ignoring that the hit deserved any sort of punishment puts all players on the ice at risk. From my rough estimate on such hits, I believe that the player who is hit in such collisions is seriously hurt a little less than half the time and injury appears to be the main criteria for fines and suspensions for the aggressor. While the game of hockey moves fast, if a player has a chance to make a big play with a low chance of repercussions, it seems they have incentive to do so.
With the criteria of an injury equaling suspension, the case for punishment in hits like Landeskog’s becomes even more confusing. He seemed normal during the game, but suffered effects two days after the contest. The team will not confirm that the forward has a concussion, but since it’s the most common head injury, either the screening policy did not work or he developed the symptoms after the game. This is a continuing problem with concussions as people react differently to the injury. With three concussions to my name, I can say that each one had different effects on me and I was lucky enough to have avoided lingering symptoms after a couple of weeks.
Bottom line, the NHL needs to send down the punishment for the worst-case scenario when dealing with hits to the head. Landeskog could have sustained a concussion that kept him out for a year or more, but the NHL has to hope it’s just a couple of games. Otherwise, the NHL is just covering its bases with suspensions based on injury rather than intent, which leads to a lot of gray area an enforcer can thrive in. Use your head NHL, the players sure are sacrificing theirs for you.