Brooks Oprik and Dan Boyle. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Dan Boyle paid the price to reach the Eastern Conference final: one devastating Brooks Orpik hit. Was the play legal, or should Orpik be suspended?
Dan Boyle has to be happy his New York Rangers fought back from a 3-1 series deficit and booked a trip to the Eastern Conference final. Aside from that good news, though, 2014-15 hasn't been kind to him. Boyle broke his hand in November and missed 14 games. When he was on the ice, his age showed, and he struggled defensively on and off throughout the season. In the second round of the playoffs he took a hard hit in the corner from Nicklas Backstrom in the dying seconds of Game 1, leading to Washington's winning goal. And then, in Game 7, Caps blueliner Brooks Orpik positively erased Boyle:
It's a vicious collision, enough to leave Boyle woozy and knock him from the game. No word yet on whether Boyle has a concussion, but it certainly looks possible. Orpik's season is over, but the NHL Department of Player Safety can still suspend him for the start of next season. Should Orpik be disciplined for the hit? The kneejerk reaction, especially among ticked off Ranger fans, is to call the hit dirty. There's a fair amount of head contact with Boyle. This one is complicated, however. For one, there's no charging here. Orpik's skates don't leave the ice until after he crashes into Boyle, and the league doesn't consider a hit charging if skates leave the ice because of the impact. Before impact, with Orpik's skates on the ice:
After impact, with the force lifting Orpik's skates off the ice:
So the hit isn't suspendable on the grounds of charging. What about rule 48, illegal check to the head? The league looks for a hitter extending a body part and launching it toward the head in a specific act of targeting. We saw it with Niklas Kronwall's elbow and forearm sticking out to catch Nikita Kucherov's chin in round 1:
The screenshot is a blur – sorry, that's just how fast Kronwall hits – but note how Kronwall's left arm is separated from his body, with his forearm and elbow targeting Kucherov's head. This blow fits the rule 48 criteria of considering "whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent's body and the head was not 'picked' as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward." Orpik, however, keeps his core tight. It's a body-on-body hit, and Orpik's bicep makes the contact with Boyle. There's no attempt to "pick" Boyle's head. Orpik stays on one trajectory. Because Boyle is hunching forward and his body is low, his face lines up with Orpik's body. This angle shows it best. No appendage on Orpik sticks out. If Orpik was standing still, Boyle still would've crashed head-first into Orpik's bicep:
So while it's a big hit, and it did involve contact with Boyle's head, it shouldn't fall under the NHL's supplementary discipline criteria. Orpik won't be suspended. And if we subsequently learn Boyle has to miss more time as a result of the hit, that won't change things. Injuries only affect sentencing after the league deems a hit suspendable. An injury cannot convert a legal hit to an illegal one.
Update (1:30 p.m. ET): I can confirm now Brooks Orpik will not be disciplined by the NHL for his hit.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin