Friday, May 3, 2013

Gryba: To Suspend or Not to Suspend - NHL CBA, Rules & The Hit

Ottawa Senators forward Eric Gryba hit Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller during second period action in Game 1 Thursday night in Montreal. Eller was knocked unconscious before he hit the ice. With his arms limb and unable to brace for impact, Eller’s face collided with the ice (sadly reminiscent of Kevin Stevens).

The result for Eller was a pool of blood gathering on the ice around his head, a broken nose, broken teeth and a concussion. Eller was taken off the ice on a stretcher and Gryba was given a major penalty for the hit and a game misconduct.

The Canadiens have lost one of their top players. For Canadiens fans it’s a shame, as Eller has emerged this season as a strong two-way player.

Gryba now faces a discipline hearing with the league to determine whether he will be suspended.

So now we are faced with the inevitable question: to suspend or not to suspend?

Well we need to look at the rules, the NHL CBA and of course the hit.

So first the rules. We’ve all heard about Rule 48 or the primary contact to the head rule. Here it is: 
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.
Another important consideration is the NHL CBA. It sets out the factors relied upon when determining whether to impose supplemental discipline. Here's the language from the CBA:
In deciding on supplementary discipline, the following factors will be taken into account as per paragraph 6 of Schedule 8 (this is the old CBA but it shouldn’t change):
(a) The type of conduct involved: conduct outside of NHL rules; excessive force in contact otherwise permitted by NHL rules; and careless or accidental conduct. Players are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
(b) Injury to the opposing Player(s) involved in the incident.
(c) The status of the offender, and specifically whether he is a "first" or "repeat" offender. Players who repeatedly violate NHL rules will be more severely punished for each new violation.
(d) The situation of the game in which the incident occurred: late in the game,lopsided score, prior events in the game.
(e) Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.
Of there factors, Paragraph 6(a) is key. It provides for discipline in cases of illegal hits or legal hits delivered with excessive force.

Now on to the hit. I've slowed the video down and captured these images, which are helpful in analyzing what happened:

From these images, Gryba does not make primary contact with the head. His hips and torso drive into Eller. The elbow is not up, nor is the shoulder delivered to the head. Contact is made with Eller’s body initially and that contact is away from the head.

So how is Eller rendered unconscious before he hits the ice? As a result of the initial impact, Eller’s head hits Gryba in the back of the shoulder knocking him out.

These images are quite helpful in getting a better idea of the manner in which the hit was delivered and received.

So without that primary contact to the head, the application of Rule 48 is off the table.

However, what about Paragraph 6(a) of the CBA, which provides for discipline in cases of hits that fall within the rules but are delivered with “excessive force”.

While the result of the hit was disheartening, the hit itself did not seem one that could be fairly characterized as “excessive”. Gryba lined up Eller (who had his head down), and a strong impactful hit was delivered. This was not a case of Gryba going after a defenseless Eller. It was, unfortunately for Eller and the Canadiens, a hit that not only falls within the rules but was also not excessive. 

Problem is the laws of physics conspired to produce the result we saw. 

It’s close but there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the hit was worthy of a suspension.

It was a legal hit with a terrible result. Still legal, though.

By the way, I’m a Habs fan.


Daniel Gilbeau said...

Great article Eric. I know you are a HUGE Habs fan so it is good to see your points on the hit. It is very unfortunate that Eller was injured but I thought it was a clean hit all the way. Bad pass by Diaz that set up the hit.

Eric Macramalla said...

Agreed - unfortunate set of circumstances

Anonymous said...

The question is: should the rules be changed to add one that makes reckless hits subject to supplemental discipline? Not sure it would have made a difference here, but in many other cases where hits were with reckless disregard for a player's safety, even where the head wasn't targeted, I think players ought to tone it down. There's still plenty of hard-hitting action that can happen without recklessly jeopardizing players.

aj espartero said...

i think accidents in this kind of game is just usual. you can avoid getting physical in the game.
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