I’m Brendan Shanahan, the National Hockey League’s Senior Vice President of  Player Safety. Friday night in Anaheim, an incident occurred during a game between the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks. 11 minutes into the second period, Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome delivered a completely legal hit to Anaheim winger Devante Smith-Pelly. He won’t be suspended because that would be stupid.

Okay, so Shanahan didn’t produce a video after reviewing Rome’s hit on Smith-Pelly, and reports indicate that he wasn’t entirely happy with the hit and believed the discipline issued during the game was sufficient for the offense. But I like to believe that he watched the video and said, “Seriously? The referees called that elbowing?”

Of course, with the number of people who watched the video that came away concluding that the hit was a vicious elbow to Smith-Pelly’s head, I shouldn’t assume that anyone would be rational and reasonable. And since we’re talking about Aaron “Thug” Rome (nickname provided by Barry Rozner), clearly this hit was an attempt to injure, right? According to his massive four-game suspension in the Stanley Cup Final, Rome must be the worst person in the NHL and should have been suspended for at least 10 games.

That appears to be the train of thought around the internet, mainly because the only time that most hockey fans have heard Aaron Rome’s name is in connection with Nathan Horton’s head. The idea that Aaron Rome is a dirty hockey player is a bit of an absurd one to Canucks fans: Rome has always hit hard, but he’s never hit to hurt. That said, the hit on Horton was definitely late, connected with the head, and deserved a suspension. I felt like the 4-game suspension was too harsh, but it was, in retrospect, understandably harsh given the current climate around concussions.

This hit, on the other hand, didn’t even deserve a major penalty and a misconduct, let alone a suspension. Let’s take a look at the hit.

The call was for elbowing. Seriously. Elbowing.

I had someone tell me that Rome led with his elbow and that his arm was parallel to the ice at the time of the hit. I have to assume that this person has the worst eyesight in the world but is embarrassed to tell anyone. While the videos of the hit that are available are a little low-quality, they’re clear enough to show that there’s no way this should have been an elbowing call.

Here’s Rome and Smith-Pelly just prior to the hit. Smith-Pelly has missed the puck and looks down at his skates just prior to impact. But the two players are square to each other and Rome clearly has his elbow tucked in tight against his body. He’s not leading with his elbow in any way whatsoever. Unfortunately, this angle and quality of video don’t show the actual hit very well thanks to Smith-Pelly’s jersey blending in with the jerseys of his teammates on the bench.

The opposite angle, however, shows the impact clearly and it’s this angle that completely destroys any possible argument that Rome hit Smith-Pelly in the head with his elbow. The clearest shot was actually sent to us by @BeantownCanuck as evidence that Rome did hit Smith-Pelly in the head with his elbow, though he came around to my point of view afterwards.

Smith-Pelly’s number is 77, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post. Only one 7 can be seen on Smith Pelly’s shoulder, however, because the other one is being obscured by Rome’s elbow on the follow-through on the hit.

That means Rome’s elbow could not possibly have connected with Smith-Pelly’s head. Watching the video with this in mind, that Rome’s elbow is tucked in prior to the hit and then used as leverage, finishing on Smith-Pelly’s shoulder, it’s blatantly obvious that elbowing was the wrong call.

Now I want this to be clear: Rome hit Smith-Pelly in the head. Of that, there is no doubt. But the contact with the head was with Rome’s shoulder and simultaneous with a full body-on-body check, which has specifically been clarified by the league as legal. In addition, because Smith-Pelly looks down just prior to the hit, he put himself in a vulnerable position.

Take a look at the league’s initial video regarding hits to the head, specifically the section on legal checks. The key words that are used again and again are “full body” and “does not target the head.” Rome’s hit is clearly a full body check and the head is not targeted, nor is it the principle point of contact.

With that said, The Province reports that “Shanahan was unhappy with some aspects of the hit and is expected to call Rome this weekend to talk to him about these concerns.”

It doesn’t take much thought to figure out what Shanahan might have been unhappy about. The puck had passed Smith-Pelly by the time of the hit, meaning the Duck winger likely wasn’t expecting a hit. In addition, Rome drove upwards with the hit instead of finishing low. I’m willing to bet that Shanahan will advise Rome to finish his checks lower on the body to avoid getting any calls from him in the future.

To summarise, Rome didn’t receive a suspension because the video clearly showed that the referees made the wrong call and the hit falls into the category of allowable contact with the head. If a penalty was to be called on the ice, the right call would have been a two-minute minor for interference. I initially thought charging would have made sense, but Rome takes no strides into the hit, coasting into Smith-Pelly instead.

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10 comments

  1. peanutflower
    November 12, 2011

    Good explanation. I watched it about 50 times on the PVR and I couldn’t see any elbow to the head either. Now do a column about the internet uproar that this non-suspension will be sure to engender, especially Barry whatsits, as I can’t seem to figure out how to actually read his articles without registering….

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  2. Kent Basky
    November 12, 2011

    Great analysis, Daniel. I trust someone will be forwarding this to Scott Burnside, right?

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  3. Chris
    November 12, 2011

    Rome basically got 5 minutes for being tall. The 2 PP goals scored on that bogus penalty cost the Canucks the game. I’m guessing Shanahan has no beef with the hit, but is covering for his refs because he knows Vancouver has a legitimate complaint about that call and he doesn’t want to throw the official under the bus

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  4. J21
    November 12, 2011

    Knowing what we know about hockey media and the Canucks, and given that Smith-Pelly is of an ethnic minority, I fully expect this hit to get widely classified as a “hate crime”.

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  5. Mike (different Mike)
    November 13, 2011

    Dan,

    Here is what I do not get. Clearly even at full speed (which is all the refs see) there is zero chance this is a 5 minute penalty or game misconduct. The Canucks were not playing well anyway so may have lost regardless HOWEVER in an age where PP’s often decide games, how on earth is not allowed/possible for ALL FOUR OFFICIALS to consult quickly to ensure they got it right? This almost never happens in hockey. Can the NHL tell me that the linesman two feet away watching the hit didn’t see it more clearly than the meat-head that decided to ensure a Canucks loss with an absolutely awful call? All I am saying is if a penalty call is made, simply quickly meet at the score keepers box and say ” this is what I’m calling – anybody CLEARLY see anything to change that?” And for the betterment of the game instruct the officials to have the guts to say “yes, he hit him clean” or “No it was his own players stick that hit him in the face” or “no he was holding the guys stick between his arm and chest” etc etc. It would take no more than 10 seconds per penalty to call.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 13, 2011

      The referees certainly do consult on other penalties (notably delay of game penalties where they’re not sure if the puck went cleanly over the glass) and I’m sure they communicate on things like this. In fact, I believe they did get together on this one, as Rome initially went to the penalty box and was sent to the dressing room with the misconduct afterwards. Unfortunately, it didn’t help and potentially made it worse.

      Umpires in baseball consult all the time on difficult plays, but they have more time to do so.

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  6. jones
    November 13, 2011

    You can show all the video and still you want. The fact of the matter is he’s ran 30 feet to deliver a check to a stationary player, who was dumping an outlet pass in. If the kids nose was broken, one would say he was hit in the head and rome has a history of being a dirt bag player. People in van city of course think its a good hit and people in anaheim don’t. I’m neutral and I can tell you that, not only was rome out of position to make that hit, he clearly charged and hit the kid in the head and wheather or not he was looking down at the puck or not, is not a factor. Maybe because smith-pelly drilled him pretty good earlier in the game and he was embarrased a 19 year was strong on his feet, or maybe he’s just a dirt bag player (ask horty). Can’t wait til the duck play them again with parros in the lineup and when horton gets a second crack at this plug! Way to go NHL…another missed chance to clean up the game!

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    • Geoff
      November 13, 2011

      Thanks I needed a good laugh.

      My favorite part is where you go out of your way to say you are coming from a neutral position but you can’t wait to see Parros go after Rome for what should have been a 2 minute penalty. And you want the NHL to clean up the game by suspending anyone who is guilty of interference, but think it’s ok for a team’s enforcer to head hunt someone after a minor incident? I’m guessing you are also a fan of players fighting after every big, clean hit.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 13, 2011

      Yes, I can tell by your tone that you are clearly neutral and unbiased. Right.

      Rome coasted into Smith-Pelly. He didn’t even take any strides into him. So…you’re wrong. Rome has no history of being dirty beyond the hit on Horton, which was, according to the NHL, a clean hit except for it being late. I would be more upset with you if it wasn’t so clear that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

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  7. Johnny b Gooode
    November 14, 2011

    Troll harder, Jones.

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