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Campbell's Cuts: NHL says Richards' hit was clean, but it shouldn't be

Mike Richards has caused a familiar debate over head shots in hockey with his hit on David Booth over the weekend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Mike Richards has caused a familiar debate over head shots in hockey with his hit on David Booth over the weekend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers has to be feeling pretty good about things these days. Not only did he escape a suspension for his vicious hit Saturday that resulted in David Booth receiving a concussion, he might even have his game misconduct rescinded by the league.

The Richards hit capped a week that contained a lovely smorgasbord of on-ice mayhem that started with public menace Colby Armstrong doing what he does best, running at players from the other end of the ice and plowing them when they have the audacity to look down at a puck in their feet. No penalty, no suspension, no nothing.

In the same game we had a hit from behind on Scott Gomez from Slava Kozlov that at least earned a penalty, but – surprise, surprise – no supplementary discipline.

It continued with a couple of impressive slewfoots from Evgeny Artyukhin and Alex Ovechkin. As a repeat offender, Artyukhin was suspended three games, while Ovechkin was fined $2,500, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, and was apparently put on double-secret probation. That should really hit Ovechkin hard, considering his salary of $9 million this season means it took him exactly one hour and 15 minutes to earn the fine amount. (That’s not 1:15 of hockey, by the way. It’s 1:15 of existence in a 24-hour day.)

Next came a three-game suspension to Tuomo Ruutu for drilling Darcy Tucker from behind – then the Richards hit on Booth.

Three weeks into the season, it’s business as usual in the NHL. We have three players – Matt Niskanen, Tucker and Booth – on the sidelines with concussions and six games in suspensions and a paltry fine to show for it. Meanwhile, everyone goes on their merry way, talking about how “unfortunate” it is to see these things happen and “you never want to see a guy get hurt,” and blah, blah, blah.

You could argue all the offending players got off ridiculously lightly. The Richards hit, though, is one where the player didn’t deserve to be penalized in the first place and should be lauded as a terrific physical play.

Why is that? Because the Richards hit met zero criteria for a suspendable offense as far as the NHL is concerned. Should those kinds of hits go unpunished? Of course they shouldn’t, but as it stands now, the league would have been wrong and hypocritical to suspend Richards in this particular case.

That’s why Richards was not suspended and the league is considering rescinding his game misconduct. (It was widely believed the game misconduct was for intent to injure. It was not. Richards received a five-minute major for interference and that carries an automatic game misconduct. The rule allows the referee, at his discretion, to assess a major penalty for interference, “based on the degree of violence.”) This is important for Richards because the misconduct would be considered if Richards ever found himself being called on the carpet again.

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It’s interesting to note the ruling was made by vice-president, hockey operations Mike Murphy and not chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell because Campbell’s son, Gregory, plays for Booth’s Florida Panthers. But regardless of who was making the decision, it would have been the same. If the league sees nothing wrong with the hit, then why should Richards be penalized at all?

The NHL maintains Richards did not leave his feet until after the hit, like that’s supposed to make a difference. It did not consider the hit a late hit because it has established that, based on there being 30 frames in a second, anything happening 20 frames or more after the player passes the puck is considered a late hit. The Richards hit was exactly 14 frames, or less than a half a second, after Booth dished off the puck. Booth was not considered an unsuspecting player and it was deemed Richards didn’t target his head.

Nobody is suggesting Richards goes out to hurt people, but there are few players in the league who actually do. What almost all of them are guilty of, however, is reckless play. But apparently the NHL, which is scared to death you’ll take all physicality out of the game if you institute a head-shot rule, has no problem with reckless play.

I’ve listened to GMs and league officials talk after their meetings and they can’t even come up with a consensus on what constitutes a head shot, let alone how to penalize it. Until they do and they can get their head around the concept that there won’t be fewer good hits if you take head shots out, expect to continue seeing players taken off the ice on stretchers.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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