NHL Could Suspend Niklas Kronwall for Hit to the Head of Jake Voracek

Jason Sapunka@moreSapunkaCorrespondent IIMarch 7, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 06: Jakub Voracek #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) stakes off the ice after getting hurt during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Wells Fargo Center on March 6, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Most of Niklas Kronwall's hard hits are clean.

The Detroit Red Wings' defenseman is not a dirty player and is a master of punishing opposing players who put their head down. In Tuesday night's loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, that's exactly what Kronwall did to Jake Voracek.

Roughly 7:20 into the second period, Voracek approached the boards to his right, attempting to acquire a loose puck. He looked down, reached out with his stick in his right hand, starting to gain possession.

He pushed the puck up along the boards toward where Kronwall was waiting. As Voracek continued forward, looking down at the puck, Kronwall stepped up and hit him.

The contact was the defenseman's left shoulder hitting the face of Voracek. Play was stopped as Voracek was down, unable to get up for more than a minute. No penalty was called.

After the game, Voracek was "talking and joking," according to Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Immediately after the hit, 6'1", 190-pound rookie Brayden Schenn skated to Kronwall, shoving him multiple times, likely trying to make him fight after the hit to Voracek's head.

Kronwall refused to drop his gloves and answer to the hit. The Flyers kept trying within the next few minutes; Zac Rinaldo ended up with an unsportsmanlike penalty for his efforts and Claude Giroux checked Kronwall.

Scott Hartnell picked up his checking and ended up in the penalty box for a hit on Doug Janik.

Later in the game, twice during a Detroit powerplay, Pavel Kubina skated by Kronwall when Kronwall didn't have the puck and gave him a shove.


Was this a clean hit?

It is up to NHL referees to determine if a hit to the head is deserving of a penalty, thanks to some ambiguity in Rule 48 regarding hits to the head that allows judgment to be considered.

In this particular hit, the head was undoubtedly the initial and principle point of contact. Voracek put himself in a vulnerable position by having his head down, but did not do so immediately before the hit.

Voracek did turn his body from somewhat facing the boards to facing up-ice before the hit, but when Kronwall committed to the hit, Voracek was crouched and his head was at the same height as it was at the eventual moment of contact.

Kronwall is not a dirty player, but there is no way he could make contact with anything but Voracek's face when he we committed to that hit.

The official decision will have to be made by head of supplementary discipline Brendan Shanahan.


Is Voracek at fault?

NHL players need to keep their heads up. Regardless of whether or not Voracek would be hit in the head, he was going to get destroyed by Kronwall on this hit.

He should definitely be held responsible for putting himself in a position like that.


Should Kronwall have fought?

Fighting is legal in NHL hockey. When someone goes for a big hit, clean or dirty, he has to be prepared that someone may come after him.

If a player like Kronwall steps up to apply a big hit on Voracek like he does here, and hits him cleanly in the chest, he can cause a lot of damage.

Clean checks can hurt players just as much as elbows and slashes can. Fighting after hard hits is a matter of a team saying, "Do not hit our team that hard. You know you can hurt them when you do that and we are not going to let you."

Kronwall turning down Brayden Schenn (the same guy who got dropped in a fight by Ilya Kovalchuk, of all people) is disgraceful.

Even if Kronwall's intentions were clean, he hit Voracek in the face. He showed no remorse.

By turning down Schenn, he might as well say, "I have no respect for Voracek or his teammates. I think I should get away with checking him in the face."

A perfect example of a player answering for his hit can be found including Schenn himself.

Earlier this season, after a hard, clean shoulder-to-chest hit on Boston's Steven Kampfer, Schenn was challenged by Chris Kelly. Schenn dropped his gloves and fought.

It's a matter of showing respect for the game.


What happens when players refuse to fight?

What happened after Kronwall turned down Schenn showed a preview of what would happen if the NHL were ever stupid enough to remove fighting from the game.

Players will never stop wanting to stick up for their teammates (well, good teammates, at least). The way the Flyers went at the Red Wings after was actually quite controlled.

Kronwall and the Red Wings are lucky a guy like Tom Sestito was not in the lineup. Sestito has actually said he is willing to take a suspension in certain situations.

Take a look at what happened on January 15, 1998. Vancouver's Gino Odjick ran into Buffalo's goalie Dominik Hasek.

Matt Barnaby responded by doing the same exact thing to Vancouver's goalie Sean Burke.

Now, a number of brawls happened late in that game as a result of what happened, but Barnaby running Burke is a perfect example of why fighting needs to stay in the game.

Players do not like being disrespected and do not want to let their teammates get taken advantage of. By refusing to fight, Kronwall put his teammates in a dangerous situation.



B/R featured columnist Jason Sapunka is available on Twitter.


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