Calling Fair or Foul for the Biggest Hits During the 2013-14 NHL Season so Far
The onus is on the hitter.
The NHL has made it clear over the past few seasons that it wants to do away with head shots, as star players like Marc Savard and Chris Pronger have lost their careers as a result of suffering brutal concussions.
Many other players have lost significant playing time at various points in their careers. The NHL and its fans enjoy big hits, but only when they are clean and don't involve the cranium.
One of the most notable aspects from the first month of the NHL season has been player suspensions for illegal hits.
Lets take a look at some of the big hits that have resulted in several suspensions, along with one hit that may have escaped league discipline.
Martin Hanzal's Hit on Jeff Petry
The hit: Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal leveled Edmonton defenseman Jeff Petry with this huge check in their Oct. 26 game in the desert.
Petry was retrieving the puck behind the Oilers net and fired the puck around the boards. Just as he let loose with the puck, the 6'6", 236-pound Hanzal came in and delivered a check to Petry's upper body. Hanzal skated quite a distance to reach Petry and was called for charging.
This did not appear to be a brutal play, but there was some contact between Hanzal's shoulder and Petry's chin. If Hanzal had bent down lower, it seems likely there would have been no contact with Petry's head at all.
However, bending lower might have made for a more forceful blow that could have caused more damage to Petry.
Petry avoided injury on the play, but Hanzal received a two-game suspension for the hit. Hanzal is a previous offender, having been suspended for one game in 2012.
Ryan Garbutt's Hit on Dustin Penner
The hit: Ryan Garbutt was suspended five games when he delivered a leaping hit to Anaheim's Dustin Penner during the Dallas Stars' game against the Ducks on Oct. 20.
Garbutt was coming out of the penalty box when he saw Penner beat his man off the wall and cut to the center of the ice. Garbutt charged right at Penner and leaped into him. Garbutt's head made contact with Penner's head and the Ducks forward was briefly knocked out.
NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan issued a five-game suspension to Garbutt, explaining that the leaping action turned a solid body check into a "violently dangerous hit."
Penner has resumed skating, but he has not returned to playing yet.
It's hard to argue with Shanahan's explanation. At 6'0 and 190 pounds, Garbutt is five inches shorter and 55 pounds lighter than Penner. That size differential may be the reason he launched himself into his opponent, but it is still a dangerous play worthy of a suspension.
Cody McLeod's Hit on Niklas Kronwall
The hit: Colorado Avalanche forward Cody McLeod was hit with a five-game suspension after a brutal collision with Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall at Denver on Oct. 17.
Kronwall was skating to retrieve a puck in the corner of the Detroit defensive zone and when he reached the puck, Kronwall reversed his direction in an attempt to start bringing the puck up ice.
Kronwall put himself in a vulnerable position with McLeod steaming down the ice and the NHL took Kronwall's action into consideration because he turned into the hit.
However, Brendan Shanahan explained that McLeod could have made an effort to slow down or avoid the bad hit, which led to McLeod's suspension.
While McLeod could have minimized the collision, he could not have avoided it altogether. It was a tough hit, but considering that McLeod had no previous history with suspensions, a two-game hit might have been more appropriate.
Kronwall has since recovered and returned to action Oct. 23.
Verdict: Foul, although a suspension seemed excessive.
Patrick Kaleta's Hit on Jack Johnson
The hit: Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres was suspended for 10 games when he pounded Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets along the boards with a head shot.
Johnson had just released the puck so he was eligible to be hit. However, Kaleta came steaming at him from behind and did not hit Johnson with a body check. The only contact that Kaleta made was with his shoulder to Johnson's chin.
While Johnson escaped injury, Brendan Shanahan concluded that this was a bad hit that would have resulted in discipline for any player who had committed such an infraction.
Kaleta, however, has been cited six times in the last four years and that played into Shanahan's decision to suspend Kaleta for such a lengthy period.
It appears that Kaleta targeted Johnson's head and his intent was to cause an injury or for intimidation. It's exactly the kind of hit that the NHL needs to eliminate.
Maxim Lapierre's Hit on Dan Boyle
The hit: Maxim Lapierre of the St. Louis Blues was hit with a five-game suspension for boarding when he checked Dan Boyle of the St. Louis Blue from behind in a game in St. Louis on Oct. 15.
Boyle seemed to stumble as he retrieved a puck and attempted to make a play on it in the far corner. The stumble exacerbated the hit from Lapierre, who did not appear to make any attempt to slow down or lessen the blow.
Boyle's chin hit the dasher and he was knocked unconscious before being taken off the ice on a stretcher.
Even though Boyle stumbled, the NHL ruled that Lapierre had Boyle's numbers in his view for quite a while and could have avoided the collision.
Boyle has not played since the hit, but is considered a game-time decision for Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Kings
Verdict: Foul. This appeared to be a cheap shot that was worthy of a suspension and has no place in the NHL.
John Scott's Hit on Loui Eriksson
The hit: Bruising forward John Scott of the Buffalo Sabres was given a match penalty and an automatic suspension when he hit Boston Bruins forward Loui Eriksson with an elbow to the head on Oct. 23.
The NHL suspended Scott indefintely for the hit and Scott is scheduled to have an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Oct. 31 in New York.
Eriksson suffered a concussion from the blow and had to be helped off the ice. He is recovering, but has not returned to action.
In the video above, NBC sports analyst Pierre McGuire labeled the hit "late" and "cheap."
Scott has been disciplined before will be looked at as a repeat offender.
Verdict: Foul. Scott's brutal shot appeared intent on injuring Eriksson.
Zdeno Chara's Hit on Tommy Wingels
The hit: Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins appeared to hit Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks with a high hit when the two teams met in Boston on Oct. 24.
As Wingels went to play the puck in the corner of the offensive zone late in the first period, Chara came after him in an attempt to dislodge him from the puck with a check. However, instead of hitting him with his body, the 6'9" Chara came in quite high on Wingels.
While the hit was not particularly vicious, it did not appear to be a legal hit because the head or neck seemed to be the main area of contact. Chara was not penalized on the play nor did he receive any supplemental discipline.
Wingels left the game after the hit and did not return. He played the next two games without any issue.
Verdict: Foul, as it violated the spirit of the rules.