Dale Weise has added to the Philadelphia Flyers woes by getting himself suspended after an illegal check to the head of Anaheim’s Korbinian Holzer. Weise was suspended three games and forfeits $39, 166,68. Please take a moment to watch the video below.
Aside from begging the question ‘why can’t the Flyers control their own skaters’, Weise’s suspension once again highlights the the ridiculously lenient punishments handed out for illegal hits to the head. Before we change tack, it’s worth remembering that Weise is a repeat offender. In September 2013 he was suspended three games for an illegal hit to the head on Taylor Hall, while in May 2014 Weise was the victim of the same offence. John Moore of the New York Rangers received a two game suspension for that hit. So if being on both the giving and receiving end of such a hit isn’t a deterrent, what is?
Before we look at these hits in more detail; what game was the official watching? Holzer was maybe three yards away yet no penalty was assessed on the ice.
If it sounds like I’m picking on Weise a little, I am. But Weise isn’t the only player to have committed this sort of offence, between 2011/12 and 2015/16 (inclusive) there have been 49 suspensions for illegal hits to the head. How does that compare to other suspension-worthy offences? Over the previous five seasons, illegal hits to the head account for 23% of total suspensions. Here is a breakdown per season:
All hits are dangerous, but hits to the head are especially so, and with the current focus in the media on concussion injuries it would seem like reducing the amount of hits would be a focus for the NHL. With that in mind it would make sense to punish offenders with lengthy suspensions. So let’s take a look at the average suspension for an illegal hit to the head. The graph below shows how long the average suspension was, and we’ve broken it down by season.
During the 2015-16 season, seven players were suspended for illegal hits to the head. The average suspension was 8.3 games, that sounds respectable, but that includes Raffi Torres‘ 41 game suspension for his hit on Jakob Silfverberg (blue line). Take Torres out of the equation and the average suspension drops down to just 2.8 games (red line). That Torres suspension skews the figures considerably, but for argument’s sake we can discount him as his punishment was exceptional (although definitely warranted).
What the red line above does tell is, is that there has been a constant downward trend with the length of suspensions issued. What we can also see is that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DOPS) has been uncharacteristically consistent over the last few seasons. So that’s a positive, I guess. Returning to Weise, we know that Weise is a repeat offender, and his original three game suspension wasn’t enough to stop him repeating the offence. Furthermore, in the DOPS video the narrator clearly states that the previous hit was taken into consideration, yet the punishment was the same. What gives? Weise’s hit wasn’t that far removed from Torres’. Both made the head the target and both kinda jumped into the hit. Clearly Torres’ history dictated a massive suspension, and Weise is not Torres. But still, the 38 game difference in suspensions is hard for the DOPS to quantify.
How many games should a played be suspended for? We asked the good people of Twitter to weigh in on this discussion:
In light of Weise's recent suspension, how long should a player be suspended for an illegal hit to the head?
— The 4th Line Podcast (@The4thLinePod) October 23, 2016
Thank you to all those who voted. The results were definitely tighter than I expected which shows this is quite an emotive issue. The slim majority went with a 10 game plus. This may seem severe, but 10 games is much more of a deterrent than three.
@The4thLinePod 20 or # games injured player misses or will miss due to any concussion related symptoms. 2nd offense = out for season
— Bluenote backer (@bluenotebacker) October 23, 2016
This is my favourite response, although if I worked for the Department of Player Safety I’d look for a compromise. 10 games plus victims’ games missed for the first offense, I’m all for sitting out the rest of the season for a second offense. Huge steps have been made to make the game safer for those who play it, but hits like these will continue to happen unless something changes.
Ultimately there’s no excuse for hits to the head, I get hockey is a contact sport and that’s one of the reasons I love to watch it, but nobody likes to see a skater get wiped out by a selfish act. Whether or not the DOPS steps up and gives out penalties that will make the hockey playing community think twice about laying one on their opponents face remains to be seen, although the way the trend line is going, probably not.