I'm sure by now many of you have heard about how the NHL is cracking down on blindside and lateral hits on players. It's called Rule 48.
According to the NHL official rule 48.1, a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted. It carries a five minute major penalty and automatic game misconduct. A match penalty can also be enforced if the referees determine the player intended to deliberately harm his opponent with the hit.
I am all for Rule 48 as it helps curtail much of the "dirty" play in the NHL. Go ahead and get rid of the cheap-shot artists but at the same time we have to be careful as vicious hits (legal ones) will always be a fun part of the game. Don't like it? Don't lace 'em up.
However with many of the accompanying penalties now associated with this rule, isn't it also important to make sure the player in question actually committed the crime?
A prime example of how this rule was implemented unfairly was in a recent game involving the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders. New York forward Blake Comeau was entering the Penguin's offensive zone and was skating with his head down. Penguin defensemen Kris Letang came in and laid a shoulder to shoulder hit which knocked Comeau to the ground. During the collision Comeau's helmet went flying.
The referees quickly enforced Rule 48 and issued a five minute major and game misconduct to Letang because they thought Letang made contact with Comeau's head, however the Jumbotron cameras and replays clearly showed this was not the case. The league even later rescinded the penalty based on the clear evidence that Letang's hit was legal.
Given the severe penalties facing a player who might be unfairly called for an infraction of this rule, shouldn't a replay judge at least take a good look to make sure it was in fact a hit to the head? In many cases the player who suffered the hit is lying prone on the ice, so have a replay judge take a look then and there, while the game is already delayed.
In the case of Letang, he was thrown out of the game and the Penguins, who had a 2-0 lead at the time, had to kill the five minute major. The Islanders scored one goal during the power play, and a second one a few seconds after the power play expired to tie the game up at 2. In addition to the score impact, the Penguins were forced to play the rest of the game shorthanded on defense. The blown call had a major effect on the outcome of the game.
Again I want to be clear I am not against Rule 48, I just want to make sure it's implemented properly. It's only fair...