When people talk about the director of player safety being the most thankless job on the planet, they might want to reference the hit Eric Gryba of the Ottawa Senators put on Artem Anisimov of the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night.
Because that hit epitomizes the rock-and-a-hard-place situation in which Stephane Quintal and his lieutenants often find themselves. If he suspends Gryba for the hit, he comes under fire from those who don’t see anything wrong with it and claim the NHL is trying to take checking out of the game. He allows it to go unpunished and he comes under attack from observers who believe the NHL is being complacent when it comes to making headhunters accountable for their actions.
For the record, Gryba received a match penalty and a game misconduct for the hit, which popped Anisimov’s helmet off before his head struck the ice. He did not return to the game and is out day-to-day with an apparent concussion.
Here’s a look at the hit from two different angles:
I’ve watched this hit numerous times from several angles in slow motion and I still can’t figure out whether or not it deserves a suspension. Do his feet leave the ice? Doesn’t appear so? Is the principle point of contact the head? Looks like a shoulder to chest hit more than anything? Was Gryba headhunting an unsuspecting player? Well, we’ll never know exactly what was going through Gryba’s head during the play, but it certainly doesn’t look like it.
Two things we should keep in mind here. The first is that Gryba is a repeat offender by the NHL’s definition for the suspension he received for his headshot on Lars Eller in the playoffs in 2012. But it’s also important to remember that his status as a repeat offender should, and will, have nothing to do with determining guilt or innocence here. That’s why a person’s criminal past is not allowed to be used as evidence during a trial. Now if he’s deemed to be guilty, then his status of a repeat offender will be held against him.
The second is the extent of the injury. It’s impossible to tell 100 percent whether Anisimov received any damage from the impact of the hit itself, but its indisputable that his bare head hit the ice when he fell. Whether Gryba was headhunting or not, should he be held liable for the fact that Anisimov did not secure his chin strap enough to prevent it from popping off his head upon impact? The answer is, of course, no.
It certainly wouldn’t be outlandish for the NHL to decide to not have a hearing with Gryba for this hit, unlike the in-person hearing it’s going to have with John Moore of the New York Rangers over this hit:
That one will probably earn Moore a six-game suspension. But with the Gryba hit, it’s difficult to determine whether there’s even any recklessness at play here. Was this just a case of a big guy seeing an opportunity to make a hit and making the most of it – nothing wrong with that in anyone’s NHL – or someone who was truly trying to do more than separate his opponent from the puck? When a 6-foot-4, 225-pound guy makes moving contact, sometimes it’s not going to turn out well.
One thing I do know: I wouldn’t want to be occupying Quintal’s chair on this file.