Pittsburgh Penguins star center and the longtime face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby is calling on the NHL for clarity.
One month ago, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson plastered Pittsburgh Penguins center Mark Jankowski with a t-bone hit near the red line, which sent Jankowski into the boards and onto the injury list. Last week, Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese caught Buffalo Sabres rookie center Dylan Cozens with a similar open-ice hit which flung Cozens awkwardly into the wall and injured Cozens.
And on Tuesday night, Penguins winger Brandon Tanev saw his chance to inflict a little pain on Boston Bruins defenseman Jared Tinordi after Tinordi crunched Penguins star center, Evgeni Malkin, earlier in the game. Tanev whizzed along the red line and nailed Tinordi on a similar perpendicular angle. Tinordi slammed into the wall, left the game, and Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said he’s unlikely to play on Thursday.
Three similar hits. Three injuries.
Wilson’s hit on Jankowski was a bit late, so Wilson received two minutes for the lateness but was otherwise unpunished.
Aston-Reese was not punished with a penalty or additional action.
Brandon Tanev received a five-minute major and a 10-minute game misconduct.
“I didn’t think he had any intent there. I hope Tinordi is OK; he went in pretty awkward, but I don’t think there is any intent. I thought he hit him clean,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “He hit him timely, as far as the puck being there.”
Hockey, specifically the NHL, has a little caveat amongst its guardians. Players are to protect themselves. In the parlance of our times, it’s a bit like victim-blaming. Jankowski was accused of admiring his dump-in too long and thus not braced for Wilson’s thump. Some quickly pointed out that Tinordi held his pose after firing the puck into the offensive zone.
But three hits. Three wildly differing penalties. Three players out of the lineup.
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. The face of hockey and a captain of Team Canada, Crosby would also like some clarification. Can anyone explain just what is legal and illegal?
“I hope (Tinordi) is OK. I hope as players we get some clarity on what’s a good hit and what’s not,” Crosby said. “It’s tough to really gauge when you’re out there. I know it’s fast, but right now, it’s really hard to know what is, in fact, clean and what’s not. And when you’re out there playing, it’s important that you do know that.”
For Sidney Crosby to broach a controversial topic, you know it’s serious. The longstanding vanguard of the hockey flame, passed to him by the all-time greats Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, avoids newsmaking opinions on controversial or frivolous matters.
Crosby puts hockey first. But this time, Crosby put a serious matter on the NHL doorstep like he’s fed the puck to so many linemates before. And like so many of those soft passes, it is a perfect setup. Without being confrontational or bombastic, Crosby has officially raised the issue.
What are the rules??
“If they’re going to err on the side of protecting us, I don’t think I’m ever going to argue that as a player, especially with Tinordi being hurt … I get it,” Crosby said. “And I think you see some hits throughout the league and especially in the first half of the season here. It’s hard as a player to know. We look at a hit, and we think, ‘oh, that’s a suspension.’
It’s not (a suspension), or we think it’s a penalty, and it’s not. And then you see (the Tanev hit and penalty). You don’t expect a five-minute major … I think it’s just it seems like it’s a little gray right now. And, you know, again, I’m never going to argue with them protecting us because I think that’s what they’re trying to do.”
Scary sight here after Tinordi slams into the boards. pic.twitter.com/PZSf7Hne90
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 17, 2021
Perhaps a little parsing of Crosby’s language is warranted.
If you’re going to protect the players, great. Protect them. Issue penalties. Issue supplemental discipline. But don’t decide games with a heavy penalty after equal hits have received nothing or a simple minor penalty.
The NFL adopted the “Defenseless Receiver” penalty so cornerbacks and safeties could no longer get their licks on receivers not braced for contact. Such a penalty would be heresy in NHL quarters. The league has done a marvelous job of cleaning up the game. Enforcers whose sole job is to fight another enforcer have vanished. Fighting is down. Cheap shots and aggressive stick fouls are way down, too.
It’s not a conversation in which fans will get to participate. Still, it surely is time to define clean and illegal far more closely than the current and loose, individual interpretations.
“I think it’s important that we understand that,” Sidney Crosby concluded.
The game’s leader made a necessary and reasonable request. If the league doesn’t hop-to, more players will have to say the same because if they don’t, more players will leave in the same.