Niklas Kronwall (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Niklas Kronwall has made a career out of his patented 'back-first' hit and has left a trail of devastated puck carriers in his wake, but the hit on Nikita Kucherov in Game 6 of the series between Detroit and Tampa Bay was ill-timed and reckless.
If there is any sense of justice in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings will be without their best defenseman for Game 7 of their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night. And if the Department of Player Safety doesn’t suspend Niklas Kronwall for his hit on Nikita Kucherov in Game 6, it might as well find a nice, warm beach somewhere to spend the rest of the playoffs.
Because if Kronwall does not sit out at least Game 7 of the Lightning-Red Wings series, the NHL will have officially confirmed what much of the first round has already proved, that it has no intention of suspending anyone for anything in this year’s playoffs.
Kronwall is the Scott Stevens of Sweden, easily the most devastating open-ice hitter in the game today. He has developed and patented a unique way of hitting players by lining them up, usually along the boards, then just before the time of contact, turns his back to his opponent and essentially jumps into him back-first. It’s so unique that it has it’s own name. To be hit like that means you’ve been Kronwalled. It’s a hit that straddles the edges of the NHL rulebook and it’s one the league clearly endorses, considering Kronwall has never been suspended. Some of them will likely also provide some pretty compelling video evidence in that class-action concussion lawsuit the NHL will invariably face someday.
Kronwall probably gets a pass on some of them because the hits are so spectacular and most of them are clean. But there’s absolutely no disputing the fact that he sometimes leaves his feet and often times he knows fully well that the puck carrier is in a vulnerable position. Take a look at this top 10 Kronwall hits and you’ll notice that virtually every one of them is back-first:
But Kronwall has always escaped punishment. Until now. Because the hit on Kucherov, although it didn’t result in either a minor penalty or an injury to Kucherov, meets all the criteria for a Rule 48 headshot.
Vulnerable opponent? Check.
Left feet? Check.
Principle point of contact the head? Check.
Elbow up? Check.
The major difference between this hit and almost all the other Kronwall hits is this one gets away from him. As usual, Kronwall comes in back-first, but his timing isn’t quite as impeccable on this occasion. Instead of hitting his opponent and then leaving his feet after the hit, he leaves his feet before making contact and the arm swing that usually follows the hit is early and results in Kucherov getting Kronwall’s elbow in the face.
It is not a malicious hit, but it is a reckless one. Just as they do with their sticks, players have to be in control of their bodies. Kronwall was not in this case and the results could have been disastrous.
Thankfully they were not in this case, but that doesn’t mean it was not a suspendable offense. And the fact that Kronwall would miss the Red Wings most crucial game of the season shouldn’t matter. Nor should the fact that neither referee Dave Jackson nor Steve Kozari saw fit to call even a minor penalty.
And before the deluge of tweets and comments come in suggesting your trusty correspondent begin covering figure skating, nobody wants to take big hits out of the game. But these kinds of hits should be and if the league’s GMs need something to do this summer, they may want to take a look at the legality of this back-first hit. Even guys who hit clean let the occasional one get away from them and that’s what happened here.
It's time for the NHL to step up and have the stones to suspend him for a big game. It’s time for Kronwall to be Kronwalled.