I don’t want to write this post. I wish I didn’t have to. I don’t want to defend Colin Campbell because I don’t think he does his job particularly well. Really, it’s not entirely his fault. The job he does shouldn’t be the responsibility of just one man. The ire of the NHL’s fans for unfair and inconsistent decisions on discipline shouldn’t fall on any one individual. But it does.
Just because I don’t particularly like the job he’s doing as head of NHL discipline, however, does not mean I disagree with all of his decisions or even the reasoning behind those decisions. Following the decision to not apply any supplementary discipline to Raffi Torres after his Scott Stevens-esque dismantling of Brent Seabrook, the NHL made the admirable choice to be open about the reasoning behind this decision and released the following statement from Colin Campbell :
When Rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head) was unanimously adopted by the General Managers in March 2010, there was no intention to make this type of shoulder hit to the head illegal. In fact, at that time, we distributed a video to all players and teams that showed a similar hit on a defenseman by an attacking forward coming from the opposite direction behind the net and stated that this is a ‘legal play’.
This hit meets none of the criteria that would subject Torres to supplemental discipline, including an application of Rule 48: He did not charge his opponent or leave his feet to deliver this check. He did not deliver an elbow or extended forearm and this hit was not ‘late’.
Ignoring for the moment the scare quotes around “legal play” and “late,” which could be seen in more cynical circles as a sign of sarcasm, this statement seems quite reasonable. Campbell indicates that Rule 48 does not apply and runs down the list of other infractions that could be suspendable, finding Torres innocent of all charges. He even points to the video that was sent out to all teams when Rule 48 was put in place and, indeed, there is an example of such a hit being labeled as legal.
But many, many people in the media could not accept that Rule 48 did not apply. Most latched onto the phrase “behind the net” in Campbell’s statement and made the astonishing logical leap that Campbell was implying that “behind the net” was some sort of “special hitting zone,” according to Damien Cox, wherein “otherwise illegal play is okay.” Cox’s response is the most absurd of the bunch, somehow managing to compare the Torres hit with the blatant boarding done by Jarret Stoll on Ian White, but others have jumped on the “hitting zone” bandwagon, including Cam Cole, who is taking the opportunity to assassinate Raffi Torres’ character, and Bruce Arthur, who has taken to twitter with a series of increasingly humourous tweets about “behind the net” that completely miss the point.
So now I feel like I am forced to comment on an issue that I wanted nothing to do with, because the story of the Torres hit has become the story of the “special hitting zone” and how the NHL rulebook apparently doesn’t apply “behind the net.” It’s hogwash, bullpucky, and various other less cutesy words.
In his statement, Campbell isn’t saying anything about “behind the net” being a special area in terms of discipline and Rule 48. Instead, it is a clarification of the rule, which states that an illegal check to the head is “a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.” What Campbell is saying in his statement is that when a defenseman is skating behind the net and an opponent comes from the opposite direction, then the hit is not deemed to be lateral or blind side. That’s it. It seems obvious, in hindsight: when two players are coming at each other from opposite directions, of course it’s not lateral or blind side. Can a lateral or blind side hit still occur behind the net? Of course. But when the two skaters are coming from opposite sides of the net, there’s some responsibility on the skater to look where he is going.
There’s no special area “behind the net” that allows hitters to break the rules. All it means is that when two skaters are coming at each other from opposite directions, then the hit is not a lateral or blind side hit. Prior to this decision, some even compared the Torres hit to Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard – a clear lateral, blind side hit – when it should perhaps have been more appropriately compared to Willie Mitchell’s hit on Jonathan Toews: a north-south hit where the hittee was looking in the wrong direction. Do I like hits to the head? No, of course not. I think the rule should be amended. But I don’t like seeing the type of miscommunication I’m seeing right now between the NHL and members of the media.
Part of the miscommunication is that some people are under the impression that all hits to the head have been banned. They haven’t. The NHL board of governors ruled against a total ban on hits to the head. Another part of the miscommunication is that Colin Campbell’s statement doesn’t specifically say that the Torres hit was not a lateral or blind side hit. This lack of clear communication has resulted in this hodge-podge of misunderstanding. Perhaps it isn’t that Colin Campbell doesn’t do his job particularly well; he just needs someone else to write his statements to the media.
Tags: Colin Campbell, featured, miscommunication, Raffi Torres, Rule 48, Torres