Could a condensed hockey season and a smaller number of opponents mean more questionable hits?
This 2020–21 NHL season is different than any season we have ever seen before. That includes modified divisions, including the all-Canadian North Division, in order to abide by travel restrictions between the Canada–United States border due to COVID-19.
Each team is expected to play 56 games exclusively against their respective division teams. This means that all American teams will be facing each team eight times, while Canadian teams will face their opponents nine or 10 times. This should be done in a period of five months, but could take longer because of postponed games due to COVID-19 protocols.
While this format should allow the regular season to be over by May 10, many questions have been raised about the short rest time for players, and the risk of injury.
This shorter season also means a lot of consecutive games between the same teams, which can create more tension between teams, compared to a regular 82-game season. This is looking a lot more like the playoffs; the rivalry, the hits, and the fights are all there.
There have been multiple cases of dangerous hits this season, leading to injuries and sometimes suspensions for the offending player.
The Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks faced each other for three consecutive games in Vancouver earlier this season. During the second game, when the Canadiens were up 6-3 with less than three minutes left in the game, Canucks’s defenceman Tyler Myers made a huge hit on Montreal forward Joel Armia and received a 5-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
Armia was diagnosed with a concussion after the game, which raised many questions as to what kind of additional discipline Myers could get. The next day, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that he would get none, as it was a “bodycheck.” This eventually led to Canadiens defenceman Joel Edmundson and Myers dropping the gloves in the first few minutes of the third game, adding even more violence to the situation.
St. Louis Blues forward Sammy Blais also made a dangerous hit on Colorado Avalanche defenceman Devon Toews. On the ice, the call made was a minor elbowing penalty. Toews left the ice after the hit, but later returned to the game.
However, the Department of Player Safety later made the decision to give Blais a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head. The calls given to Myers and Blais — on the ice and from the Department of Player Safety — were both different, which shows how hard it is to understand punishments of vicious hits.
Another big hit this season was Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie on Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Marcus Pettersson, a few seconds after Oshie was tripped by Pettersson. The referees made the call on the ice for a major penalty, but then changed it to a minor interference after review. Oshie received no additional discipline.
Some might say that these consequences make sense, and some might argue they don’t.
While hits are an essential part of hockey, I think consequences regarding players’ safety should be more consistent, especially with such a condensed season where teams get even more competitive as they face the same six or seven teams for five months.
Graphic by Lily Cowper