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 Kane, Drew 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.
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.