The Dirtiest Hits in the 2013-14 NHL Season so Far

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistDecember 5, 2013

The Dirtiest Hits in the 2013-14 NHL Season so Far

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    NHL fans have been given ample opportunity to see the uglier side of hockey this season.

    Hits from behind, hits to the head (such as the one that felled Boston's Loui Eriksson for five games), stick-swinging, elbows, charging, clipping and other offences have all been evident in the early going this year. 

    Which of these hits have been the very dirtiest this season? Read on to see our list.

    Note: Unlike the NHL's Department of Player Safety, we are not taking into account player history on this list. In other words, while Patrick Kaleta (for example) may be a dirty such-and-such, if he throws the same hit as Pavel Datsyuk, they would be weighed the same on this list. 

10. Patrick Kaleta on Jack Johnson

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    What makes this hit so dirty: The blatant head-hunting involved makes Patrick Kaleta's hit on Jack Johnson noteworthy. 

    Kaleta throws hits all the time and knows what he's doing; moreover, he takes a long run at Johnson and has all the time in the world to line him up for a clean check. Instead, Kaleta cuts just in front of Johnson and catches him on the chin with his shoulder.

    NHL discipline: Ten-game suspension. 

9. Carter Ashton on Derek Smith

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    What makes this hit so dirty: Carter Ashton hammers Derek Smith here, despite the fact that he's looking directly at Smith's numbers, and the boards are at an extremely dangerous distance. 

    It's a bizarre play to make—the kind of play that any hockey player at any age knows is beyond the pale. 

    NHL discipline: Two-game suspension. 

8. Ryan Garbutt on Dustin Penner

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    What makes this hit so dirty: It's the amount of time involved that separates this hit from the pack.

    Garbutt leaves the penalty box and makes a beeline toward Penner, with a hit clearly on his mind the whole way as the Ducks forward tries to get the puck under control. On arrival, he explodes into the check and ends up hurting Penner badly. 

    NHL discipline: Five-game suspension. 

7. Jesse Winchester on Chris Kelly

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    What makes this hit so dirty: The whole "jumping into the air to elbow a guy in the face" bit is what separates Jesse Winchester's filthy shot on Chris Kelly from the garden-variety hit to the head. 

    NHL suspension videos spend a lot of time parsing the action to determine if the head was the principle point of contact on a play and whether a player hit it in the course of making a hockey play or targeted it. There's no question here.

    NHL discipline: Three-game suspension. 

6. Maxim Lapierre on Dan Boyle

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    What makes this hit so dirty: Maxim Lapierre finishes a hit on a player in a vulnerable position; that's the long and the short of it. 

    Lapierre was clearly fixated on the hit the whole way here, and even with Boyle stumbling and his face against the boards, Lapierre decides not to let up but instead finishes off the play, with terrible consequence. 

    NHL discipline: Five-game suspension.

5. John Scott on Loui Eriksson

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    What makes this hit so dirty: Arguably no hit in the early season attracted as much controversy as John Scott's shot on Loui Eriksson. Watching the play, it's easy to see why: Scott cuts across centre ice and does his best to separate Eriksson's head from his body. 

    The other issue, of course, is that it's Scott (one of the least talented players in the game) hammering a scorer like Eriksson, but that part of the dynamic doesn't enter into this list's considerations. 

    NHL discipline: Seven-game suspension.

4. Nazem Kadri on Niklas Backstrom

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    What makes this hit so dirty: The "forearm shiver" to the head of Niklas Backstrom is the key point here, but it's not the only one.

    Generally, on this kind of play a player is pushed toward the opposing goalie; Kadri wasn't, but with his arms-in-the-air routine, he made every attempt to make it appear as though he had been. 

    It's hard to escape the conclusion that Kadri knew exactly what he was doing the whole time here. 

    NHL discipline: Three-game suspension.

3. Zack Kassian on Sam Gagner

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    What makes this hit so dirty: The point that Brendan Shanahan makes in the video is a key one: Kassian had already started swinging his stick before he reached the boards. 

    Shanahan takes Kassian's claim that this was an accident at face value, but doing so makes it awfully difficult to figure out what was going through Kassian's head. Why would he swing his stick like that? It certainly wasn't a result of impact.

    At best, this was a disgustingly negligent stick-swinging play. 

    NHL discipline: Eight-game suspension (five regular season, three preseason). 

2. Cody McLeod on Niklas Kronwall

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    What makes this hit so dirty: At no point in the lead-up to this hit does McLeod see anything other than the back of Kronwall.

    McLeod is coming at high speed and has a split-second decision to make. Does he finish a check on a top opponent, or does he ease off on a player in a vulnerable position? He opts for the hit, even though he's been looking at Kronwall's numbers the whole way.

    Side point: This wasn't exactly a shining moment for Colorado's television commentators. 

    NHL discipline: Five-game suspension.

1. Kevin Westgarth on Mark Borowiecki

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    What makes this hit so dirty: A guy on his knees trying to get to his feet with his head and neck lined up against the boards? What harm could come from finishing a hit on a guy in that position?

    With other hits on this list, it's possible to make excuses. The game is fast and players have to make split-second decisions. Sometimes players don't realize how vulnerable their opponents are.

    None of that flies here. This was a filthy hit, an inexplicable blow that could have had life-altering consequences. It's just lucky for everyone involved that it didn't. 

    NHL discipline: Two-game suspension.