Alex Edler faces hearing for hit on Mike Smith; Shanaban on the way?

Canuck fans are usually delighted when Alex Edler decides to play with an edge. The big Swede can be a punishing hitter when he overcomes his narcolepsy and chooses to assert himself — just ask Patrick KaneDrew Doughty, or, as it happens, Mike Smith.

Of course, the Smith hit is different. While Edler is well within his rights to crush just about any member of the opposition that has the puck, especially behind the net in the “hitting zone”, the NHL rulebook is pretty explicit about goaltenders not being “fair game”. Thus, Edler’s huge collision with Smith from Thursday night’s 2-1 Vancouver win over the Phoenix Coyotes has earned him a phone hearing with Brendan Shanahan and the Shanavengers at the Department of Player Safety.

It’s possible that this could just be a friendly “hi, how are ya”. But it’s also possible that this could be a precursor to the Canucks’ second suspension of 2013. The Bible says faith comes by hearing. Does suspension as well?

Here’s the hit once more:

Now, right up front, I want to deal with the obvious question of bias, because I definitely have one. I watch every Canucks game and I run a Canucks blog. I’m very familiar with Alex Edler, and a run at Mike Smith seems out of character for him. That in mind, I find it hard to believe he came charging behind the net with the intent of steamrolling Mike Smith. When Edler stands up prior to contact, it looks to me like he’s trying to make himself two-dimensional enough to squeeze by, not elevate into a headshot, but that may be because that seems more in keeping with who I believe Edler to be.

It really doesn’t make sense situationally, either. At the time of the incident, the Canucks were leading the Phoenix Coyotes 1-0 and they had a powerplay that was about to expire. Considering how tight Coyotes games tend to be, and considering the Canucks’ struggles on the powerplay, I can’t imagine Edler, of all people, committing to a hit that’s almost certainly going to end the powerplay early and give the Coyotes a chance to tie the game on one of their own. Edler has never seemed malicious or stupid enough to think something like this would be a good idea.

All that said, even if Edler were a stranger to me, I still don’t think I’d be expecting a suspension here.

Yes, he faces a hearing, but not every hearing leads to a ban. For instance, Milan Lucic had a hearing with the Department of Player Safety when he steamrolled Ryan Miller last season, and he didn’t receive any supplemental discipline. Shanahan explained that decision in a statement.

“The minor penalty called on the ice was the correct call,” he said. “And, while it’s unfortunate that Miller was hurt, I saw nothing egregious about this hit that would elevate it to supplemental discipline.”

I’m of the mind that Shanahan will say something similar about this incident, especially since Edler didn’t just receive a two-minute minor — he received a five-minute major. I suspect Shanahan will find that a sufficient punishment.

The wrinkle, however, is if Shanahan deems Edler’s hit the product of intent. Determining motive on the play was one of the main reasons for the Lucic hearing. “I had the hearing because I did make an initial assessment of the play, as I do with all plays, but I did have some questions for Milan and I wanted to hear directly from him,” Shanahan told the Toronto Star. “They were regarding his intent . . . I was satisfied with his answers.”

Edler’s answers will have to account for the previous collision between Smith and a Canuck in the game, when Daniel Sedin was taken down on a partial break and wound up sliding into the crease. Instinctively, Smith threw up his blocker to protect himself and wound up bloodying Daniel’s nose with an inadvertent punch. At least, that’s how I saw it. It’s possible — and, again, this seems unlikely considering what we know about Edler — that the Canucks saw this as intentional and Edler seized an opportunity to exact revenge. But maybe.

If Shanahan gets even a whiff of premeditation, then Edler’s in trouble.

There are, of course, two recent suspensions after goalie collisions that should also be considered. The first is Jordin Tootoo’s two-game ban for barrelling into Ryan Miller later on last season. The second is Andrew Shaw’s collision with Smith from last year’s playoffs, which cost him three games.

We can probably throw out Tootoo. He leapt into Miller’s head while Miller was in the crease. A leaping headshot on anyone is a suspendable offence. When it’s a goaltender, you’re pretty much done.

As for Shaw, that one’s a lot more comparable, since, like Edler, he hit Mike Smith behind the Coyotes net:

A Blackhawk running an opposing goalie in a playoff series? Perish the thought! (I kid.)

While Edler and Shaw’s hits appear very similar, it’s important to consider Smith’s role in both.

On the Shaw hit, Smith is behind the net at the beginning of the clip. When Shaw entered the zone, Smith was already there. Shaw has time to slow up, examine the situation, and pick an intelligent course that doesn’t result in a headshot. It’s tough to argue the collision was reasonable when Shaw is coasting down towards the goal line, looking right at Smith, long before he decides to turn the corner.

In Edler’s case, however, Smith appears behind the net unexpectedly while the Canucks are trying to regain possession of a puck on a powerplay. Edler is following the puck over his right shoulder, and when he looks ahead of him, already on his way behind the goal, suddenly Smith is out. Considering most goalies stay in their net while the opposition is in their zone on a powerplay, it’s hard to say Edler should have known Smith was going to be there.

Furthermore, while Smith originally appears to be planning to push the puck towards the far boards, explaining why Edler would speed up and hope to slide past him, Smith swivels at the last second, suddenly making himself unavoidable.

For your consideration: these screengrabs are less than a second apart:

In this grab, Edler might be able to squeeze by if Smith moves the puck ahead and backs off like a rational human being.

Nope.

In other words, it’s a lot harder to justify why Shaw was in a position to hit the goalie than it is for Edler or Lucic, which is why Shaw was suspended, Lucic wasn’t, and I suspect Edler won’t be either.

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21 comments

  1. Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
    March 22, 2013

    My expectation: Edler will be suspended, probably 3 games. I don’t think he should be suspended at all, but I’m expecting 3 games. (If only because that appears to be a really common number on the spinning dartboard in Shanahan’s office.)

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  2. Simon
    March 22, 2013

    The fact that Mike Smith came out at the end of the period doesn’t bode well for Edler even when you consider Smith spent a good amount of time down after Sedin was pushed into him. I personally think the 5-minute major in a 1-0 game is punishment enough but I expect a 1 game suspension.

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  3. Lee
    March 22, 2013

    Hard to say about a suspension or not as Shanahan seems to be somewhat inconsistent on handing out discipline.

    I think that one reason Edler got 5 minutes was the way Smith sold the collision – he looked like he had been hit by a Mack truck drive by Bruce Willis. Did anyone else notice though, how he popped back up and went after Edler. He managed to grab Edler’s jersey and steer wrestle him down onto the ice. Before dropping on top of him and pummeling away.

    The replay also clearly shows that Edler did not leave his feet and launch himself at Smith, he actually tried to get out of the way (A little) but realized that was futile.

    Anyway, WTF was Smith doing playing the puck behind the net? I am in the camp that goalies = defensemen if they try to play the puck and hinder other players anywhere outside the crease. You stray – you pay!

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  4. steveB
    March 22, 2013

    It’s the Canucks and on Gary Bettman’s pet elephant-in-the-room team.
    Probably 5 games.
    /I hope not, but I don’t expect the NHL to make sense anymore.

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  5. peanutflower
    March 22, 2013

    Smith is in Shanahan’s super goalie bubble and will never be held accountable. You can be sure that Shanahan will never say geez, this goalie guy has been involved in quite a few of these behind the net thingies and maybe he should learn to stay where he’s supposed to. So I’m not gonna suspend Edler, I’m going to make a “super Edler video” instead. That will never happen.

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  6. ktownfan
    March 22, 2013

    For your consideration of how Mike Smith takes it to extreme

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LExe2dN9Qs&feature=player_embedded

    He intentionally puts himself in the way of skaters to draw penalties.

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    • Simon (@simonwils)
      March 22, 2013

      Smith’s spin-o-rama skills on every clip I’ve seen of him getting hit make Mason Raymond jealous

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    • dougster
      March 22, 2013

      I love the “Ron Hextall” comment under the video–thanks for posting. The 5 minute major was penalty enough (or maybe even went too far–the on ice crew seemed to go out of their pattern in the game to call penalties on the Coyotes during the major to even things up).

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      • gumby
        March 22, 2013

        Yeah, that sequence of penalties after the Edler collision was bizarre. Edler deserved 2 for roughing, sure, but he really didn’t hit Smith full on. He sure as shooting didn’t charge him. The penalty was basically “Whoa, 2 minutes seems weak, let’s give him 5. What gets you 5?” Then a mystery hooking call: “OK, 5 was too much, 3 is about right”. Then “Nah, now that I think about it, 3′s too little, let’s put that back the way it was”, resulting in the goal on the 6 on 4.

        I also wonder with Daniel’s collision with Smith, did Smith put his glove hand out and punch him? Kinda looked that way, though it’s hard to tell. Maybe he thought Daniel had the puck up his nose. The shove from behind should have been called.

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        • Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
          March 22, 2013

          From where I sat, that shove from behind by Stone was the worst play of the lot – and no call at all. If Smith is injured, its’ primarily because of Stone’s push, not Edler’s hit.

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        • steveB
          March 22, 2013

          I thought it very odd that there was no call, even possibly a penalty shot as a result of Stone’s play on Daniel Sedin. But it’s NHL Bizzaro World out there for the Officiating Crews. There should be an asterisk on the whole dang abbreviated season.

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  7. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    March 22, 2013

    Suspending Edler for, essentially, going behind the net and not being able to get out of the way of Smith would be ridiculous, which is why I fully expect the Jannik Hansen “Look! We did something!” one-gamer. The in-game penalty was already excessive — you could justify 2 just because players have to be given a disincentive from going hard at a goalie, but already there was nothing about it that went beyond a general minor penalty for contacting the goalie. There was no spear or leaping elbow or anything.

    But the NHL is not, and has no reason to be, impartial. As I’ve stated on here before, it bothers me that this is considered a “controversial” position with respect to a PRIVATE BUSINESS, but it is true. And like 100% of sports leagues everywhere in the world, there is every reason to believe that business sense factors into the league’s decision-making at non-business levels, since they all have an impact on the bottom line. If a guy is going to get promoted or earn more because of a decision that favors one franchise over another, there is no incentive (let alone law) requiring him to make the “fair” decision. For this reason, I do think it makes it easier for the NHL brass to come down hard on a Canuck under the guise of “setting a precedent” or “sending a message” as opposed to, say, Milan Lucic.

    All that said, I don’t think Smith tried to hurt Daniel Sedin, either. It’s a high-impact collision, you can’t really plan for things like that. The collision was forced by the Coyote defenseman, and it’s pretty silly if he wasn’t penalized for it.

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  8. Chris the Curmudgeon
    March 22, 2013

    No justification, at all, for a suspension here. Edler was taking a direct line to where the puck was, and came as close as was possible at the time to getting by Smith clean and continuing to chase it. Clearly he was able to brace for the hit at the last moment, but there’s absolutely no way this was premeditated, nor was it injurious or out of the realm of a normal hockey play. While Smith is allowed to play the puck in that instance, it’s pretty clear that him taking up the only possible skating lane just prior to Edler arriving in pursuit of the puck was the primary reason that contact was inevitable. If Shanahan is worth his salt, which I generally consider him to be, he simply can’t set the precedent that a goaltender can run interference on an attacking player (effectively what he’s doing, deliberately or not) and get that player suspended.

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  9. steveB
    March 22, 2013

    Here’s an example of a legal hockey play*, as seen in Shanahan-Vision:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=y9jZDEQ_a3Y

    *as long as you’re a superstar on an Original Six team, rest of season ban for anyone else. :-\

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  10. chinook
    March 22, 2013

    I think Edler tried to push the puck past Smith with his stick, and when he missed, PERHAPS (its hard to tell) tried instead to kick the puck with his right skate. Thats why there was no effort to stop. Anyway, Edler should hire Lucic’s lawyer since he was able to convince Shanahan of much less plausible story.

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  11. Chamomile
    March 22, 2013

    I think Edler could have avoided hitting him. The rules are pretty clear (like it or not) that you can’t touch a goalie playing the puck in the trap. Does Smith take advantage of that? Sure, but Edler had time to stop and try to poke the puck away from him up the boards. They’re saying Smith may have whiplash but I think that may be from his over acting. He knew Edler was coming, and I don’t think he hit him that hard. Nonetheless I say he gets at least one game, maybe more.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 22, 2013

      Yes, Edler could have avoided hitting him and what he did was against the rules. But that’s why he got a penalty. I don’t see any need for an additional suspension.

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      • Cody
        March 22, 2013

        I see the 1-3 game suspension coming. The difficulty in this case is the fact that Edler appears to raise up and makes direct contact with the head. I just can’t see Shanny taking a players word that he was trying to get out of the way. I don’t think it’s the correct decision but I think it’s the decision that will happen.

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  12. Chamomile
    March 22, 2013

    I agree, except it was a hit to the head, and he didn’t return in the third. I personally think the penalty was sufficient, but will Shanahan?

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  13. Nick
    March 22, 2013

    Two games seems steep to me. I’m pretty disappointed with Shanahan.

    But after he suspended Hansen, I’m not surprised at this

    … at least not any more surprised than when hearing that high profile players on Boston and the Rangers can get away with so much more with no suspension.

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  14. akidd
    March 22, 2013

    I can’t say i blame edler. my instinct, as an observer playing the game in my head as i watch, was the same as his. get the puck. it was a powerplay and all players were in the zone. my instinct was to treat smith as a skater. now obviously i didn’t know the rule here and i’m sure edler does as that’s part of being a professional but it just seemed like mike smith was playing the puck like a skater and should be treated as such, not in the legal sense but in a kind of unspoken hockey morality sense.

    did edler try to hit smith? yup. but it seems like a strange rule when a goalie can just skate out of his net to the puck at any time(that was a pass behind the net on a pp?!?), put his back to the play and if there’s any contact the skater gets a penalty. let alone a major. let alone a suspension.

    if anything mike smith deserves his own rule on that one: “if a goalie loses his mind and skates into play after the puck, he’s fair game.”

    i’m all for protecting goalies but smith was pushing it.

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