Dion Phaneuf, in a recent preseason game against the New York Islanders, laid a body check on Islanders forward Kyle Okposo as Okposo was crossing the ice heading into the Calgary Flames end. Okposo had his head down, and Phaneuf came in from the opposite boards with the intention of hitting Okposo. There was no doubt about this.
Phaneuf, in his four seasons in Calgary, has garnered a reputation as a feared player for his open ice hits. He is paid vast amounts of money to score goals, lay big hits and move the puck up the ice.
The hit was determined legal by the referees and the league. Phaneuf did receive a two-minute roughing minor, but this stemmed from the melee afterwards and not the hit itself.
The problems here, and there are many, come from many different people and for many different reasons. Problem one is the "elbow." This was a huge, thunderous body check, and Okposo suffered a minor concussion from the hit.
Phaneuf’s shoulder hit Okposo in the chest, but instead of having Phaneuf’s arm tucked against his chest, it was "chickenwinged" out in the open. The question becomes, What did that elbow do? The referees on the ice ruled there was no elbow, and the league did not disagree.
Phaneuf was not penalized, and there have been no fines or suspensions. The elbow was there, but it was Phaneuf’s shoulder that did the damage, not his errant appendage.
Problem two is that it is the preseason. The argument is that a massive bodycheck like this makes sense from a player trying to make his way onto the team, fighting for his job, but is it necessary from a player guaranteed to be in the top four defencemen on his team already? The answer is a loaded one.
This hit was delivered by a player that was literally trained in junior by the same coach now coaching him in Calgary to deliver these hits. He has been educated for ten years on what to do with a player coming through the neutral zone with his head down.
This is the preseason, but it is no excuse to cut through the middle with your head down, especially when playing against a team such as Calgary, with two players in Regehr and Phaneuf that are infamous for delivering these kinds of hits.
That doesn’t mean that it is Okposo’s fault, because he wasn’t aware of who was on the ice, but he gets part of the blame. Players have talked about knowing when Scott Steven’s was on the ice, that a dump-and-chase was a safer play with him patrolling the blueline. When facing Calgary, that is not a bad idea.
Problem three comes from problem two, that Okposo was funnelled down the ice with a player in front of him and a forward on the backcheck behind him. He was attempting to turn and had his head down when Phaneuf crashed into him. The advocates of this problem say that Okposo had no way to defend himself, and that Phaneuf should have known that. T
his line of reasoning is false. Okposo had the choice to carry the puck into the zone, or dump and chase. He decided to attempt to carry it into the zone. In doing so, he had to cut across the ice. Okposo looked down as he was attempting to drag the puck, and Phaneuf capitalized on his opportunity. He should have dumped and chased.
Problem four is about the Code. The Code is the hockey code of honour held by the players. There is a belief that if a player targets their team’s skilled players, that player should be targeted in turn. Phaneuf creamed their player, and they wanted revenge. By the Code of course.
A nobody player trying to make a name for himself jumped the boards and attempted to attack Phaneuf. Morency was intercepted by Mark Giordano on his way to attack the Flames d-man. For this, Morency was given a game misconduct, and was suspended indefinitely by the league. The league has come down with their final ruling, and he is suspended for the rest of the preseason and the first five games of the regular season.
Phaneuf was challenged to fight repeatedly for the rest of the night, and turned those requests down. People believe that this is against the Code, and that if he is going to hit someone, he should be prepared to fight over it.
The problem here is the Code has nothing to do with this sort of situation. The Code calls for a player to fight over a dirty hit. This was a clean hit; a clean, legal hit to a player’s chest when he had his head down. Phaneuf has no call to fight after this hit.
Now if Phaneuf throws an elbow and has his knee out going into this, having to fight is more than fair. This was not a dirty hit, and so there was no call to fight over it.
As well, the players asking to fight were not Streit or whoever else passes for a skilled player on Long Island these days. These were pluggers and pugilists that play 8 minutes a game clogging the neutral zone. They are trying to make a name for themselves by fighting Phaneuf.
Getting Phaneuf of the ice for five minutes is a fair tradeoff when the counterpart is Johnny Can’tSkate. The Flames D-man would be stupid to risk breaking a fist in preseason to settle a debt that frankly doesn’t exist in the first place.
The hit was clean. It was mean, brutal, and hard, but it was clean. There was no breaking of the Code, no need for everyone to freak out and hopefully a speedy recovery for Okposo.