David Pastrnak Suspension Latest Instance of Zero-Tolerance Approach Taken Toward Hits to Head

When it comes to predatory and dangerous plays in the NHL, Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is so close to the bottom of the watch list he might not even crack it.

But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based upon how the league ruled on the player for his high hit on Dan Girardi in the Bruins 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night.

Pastrnak was suspended by the league two games for the hit, in which came streaking across the neutral zone on a 50-50 loose puck situation in the open ice, laying the hit on the Rangers defenseman in which he came up high, making contact with the head of Girardi. One of Pastrnak’s skates left the ice as he made contact.

That Girardi returned to the game after he was slow getting up and had to leave the game didn’t matter. That Pastrnak was a skill guy with no prior history – not even a parking ticket – on his record, didn’t matter.

What mattered was the hit was avoidable in the eyes of the league, and there was contact made to the head. The NHL will not stand for such incidents. The line has been drawn, multiple times. Pastrnak is the latest to learn the hard way.

The approach to head injuries are one of the major issues on the sports landscape (did you hear?). The best approach, of course, to head injuries is to prevent them. Real easy stuff until to realize the nature of sports like hockey, football, and soccer – just to name three sports – much of the play is conducive to head injuries and concussions.

So you have to change the culture. The league is doing that. USA Hockey is doing that. The NCAA and CHL are doing that. It’s a sport-wide effort, from the grassroots to the top of the sport.

The staggering spike in concussions reached a head about five years ago, a problem highlighted by Sidney Crosby having nearly three years of what will be a Hall of Fame career derailed by a concussion. In the summer of 2011, former NHLers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien died – Boogaard a drug overdose, the latter two suicide – concussions believed to be the root cause of the premature deaths of the three.

It was clear something needed to be done. The game’s fast pace, the size of the players, and oversized pads can make the game a magnet for head injuries. And of course it’s impossible to completely wipe the sport clean of concussions. They will happen. But they can be reduced. And that’s what the league has worked to do, and unlike some other leagues, has been open, honest, and transparent that it’s a problem, that it needs to be addressed, and it will be their crusade.

According to the supplementary discipline tracker Sportsnet puts out, there were 39 suspensions and 26 fines handed down from the NHL last season, costing players an aggregate 176 games and $2.74 million. That was up from the 27 suspensions, 81 games lost, and $1.388 taken out of the pockets of players a year earlier.

Already this season there have been five suspensions that have cost players 14 games, according to Spotrac.

Two years ago, Mark Spector wrote an interesting piece examining the changes made in player safety in past years. The piece put the new emphasis put on changing the game – not so much taking out the physical play, just the unnecessary ones. The game has flourished as a result.

Is David Pastrnak a dirty player? No. Was it a dirty, dangerous, predatory hit? No. Was David Pastrnak targeting the head of Dan Girardi? Not likely. Was Girardi seriously hurt? No.

What matters is the result. Contact was made to the head, the hit could’ve been avoided. That’s what matters to the league.

And when it comes to hits targeting the head, the NHL has no tolerance for it.

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Winter Classic: The Best, the Worst, the Best Performers, the Quirky Numbers

There’s been seven Winter Classics going back to its 2008 inception. The eighth will be played on Friday afternoon at Gillette Stadium when the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens take the outdoors for the latest installment of the hockey rivalry that is among the top one percent in sports lore.

Here’s a look at the first seven classics.

Ranking ‘em one through seven

  1. 2008, Pittsburgh def. Buffalo, 2-1 (SO) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The first of anything most times is the best of anything, and the inaugural Winter Classic in Buffalo has been hard to top. The snow falling, the back-and-forth action between the two teams set the scene for great hockey and an even better sightline. Too often a buzzkill, the shootout added to the moment for once, with Sidney Crosby – the game’s biggest star – potting the winner in the skills competition. Nothing could’ve better set the tone for the event than this game.
  2. 2010, Bruins def. Philadelphia, 2-1 (OT). Mark Recchi scored with 2:18 left in regulation, setting up the B’s overtime win when Patrice Bergeron found Marco Sturm on the doorstep to give Boston the win. Though the B’s likely wished they saved that victory for May, as they lost to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, blowing a 3-0 series in the best-of-seven set.
  3. 2015, Washington def. Chicago, 3-2. The eventual Stanley Cup champs Chicago Blackhawks lost to the host Capitals, as Troy Brouwer scored with 13 seconds remaining in regulation. Eric Fehr continued his Winter Classic prowess, scoring 7:01 into the game to give the Caps the first lead, his third goal in two Winter Classic games.
  4. 2012, New York def. Philadelphia, 3-2. Drama is what makes the world go around, and there was plenty at Citizens Bank Park. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was called for covering the puck in the crease, leading to a Flyers penalty shot, with 19.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Henrik Lundqvist turned aside Danny Briere’s bid to ice the game, but it didn’t end there, as Blueshirts head coach John Tortorella insisted the call was an inside job by the league to force overtime. The coach was fined $30,000 for the comments.
  5. 2014, Toronto def. Detroit, 3-2 (SO). The second of two Winter Classics to be decided by a shootout. Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier stopped 41 shots in regulation and overtime before turning aside two of three bids in the skills competition.
  6. 2009, Detroit def. Chicago, 6-4. The highest scoring game by far. The defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings scored five unanswered goals in the second and third period to take control of the game. Jiri Hudler (2-1–3), Henrik Zetterberg (0-3-3), and Marian Hossa (0-3–3) each had three-point games.
  7. 2011, Washington def. Pittsburgh, 3-1. The game was pushed back to 8 p.m. due to weather concerns, delaying the Crosby-Alex Ovechkin showdown. Fehr scored the second and third goals to give the Caps the win.

Records

  1. Washington (2-0)
  2. Detroit (1-0-1)
  3. Boston (1-0)
  4. New York Rangers (1-0)
  5. Toronto (1-0)
  6. Pittsburgh (1-1)
  7. Buffalo (0-0-1)
  8. Philadelphia (0-1-1)
  9. Chicago (0-2)

All-Winter Classic Team

F- Jiri Hudler. Scored two goals and assisted on another in the 2009 Winter Classic, leading the Red Wings to the 6-4 win over Chicago at Wrigley Field.

F- Mark Recchi. Scored the game-tying goal with 2:18 remaining, setting up the Bruins 2-1 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park.

F- Eric Fehr. The Caps forward has three goals in two games (2011, 2015), playing a key role in Washington being the lone NHL team to win multiple Winter Classics.

D- Dion Phaneuf. The Toronto Maple Leafs captain did all the heavy lifting in the 2014 classic, a 3-2 shootout win for the Leafs, logging 28:24 of ice-time and assisting on both Toronto goals in regulation.

D- Dan Girardi. The Rangers blueliner was on the ice for 28:35 of the 60-minute game in 2012, which remains the standard for ice time in the Winter Classic.

G- Henrik Lundqvist. The marquis game of King Hank’s Vezina Trophy-winning campaign of the 2011-12 season, turning aside 34 of 36 shots. He stymied Philadelphia’s Danny Briere on a penalty shot with 19.6 seconds left in regulation to seal the win.

Winter Classic by the Numbers

*Washington Capitals (2-0) the lone team to win multiple Winter Classics.

*The Bruins become the sixth team to play in two Winter Classics, joining Washington (2-0), Pittsburgh (1-1), Detroit (1-0-1), Philadelphia (0-1-1), and Chicago (0-2).

*Five of the seven games have been decided by one goal, and none have been decided by more than two. Three have required more than 60 minutes of play, two have been decided by a shootout.

*No player has ever scored a hat trick, and no goalie has ever recorded a shutout.

*Gillette Stadium is the third NFL venue to host the event, joining Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium (2008) and Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field (2011). Four games have been held in baseball stadiums, with one being held in a college football venue, when Detroit hosted Toronto at Michigan Stadium in 2014.

*Four teams (Pittsburgh, 2008; Chicago, 2009; Boston, 2010; Chicago, 2015) won the Stanley Cup within two years after playing in the Winter Classic. The Blackhawks became the first team to win the cup in the same season after participating in the Winter Classic, when they won their third Stanley Cup since 2010 this past June.