In the second period of tonight's game against the, Sharks Captain was ejected for a hit to the head of Blues forward . The video of the incident can be seen below, with a replay of the collision coming at the 1:00 minute mark.
As shown in the replay, Joe Thornton is exiting the penalty box after serving a two minute boarding minor, and lays a hit on an unsuspecting Perron who was attempting to receive a pass in the neutral zone from a Blues defenseman. Perron never saw Thornton coming, which is no fault of Thornton's, and remained prone on the ice for about half a minute following the collision.
Here are the rules regarding hits to the head, a new addition to the NHL rulebook for the 2010-2011 season:
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.
48.3 Major Penalty – For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).
48.4 Game Misconduct Penalty – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.
48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.
48.6 Fines and Suspensions – Any player who incurs a total of two (2) game misconducts under this rule, in either regular League or playoff games, shall be suspended automatically for the next game his team plays. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game.
If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).
>> NHL Rulebook
Was the hit worthy of a five minute major penalty? Thornton's size compared to Perron's, a full four inches in height discrepancy, obviously contributes to the nature of the play, as well as the fact that Perron was hunched over when attempting to corral the pass while Thornton was essentially as high as he could be. Thornton's shoulder does make contact with Perron's head however, which opens up the play to analysis.
A literal interpretation of Rule 48 does lead credence to the idea that this was deserving of a five minute major penalty. While the hit was far from a blindside hit, it definitely toes the line between being a lateral hit versus one that comes head on.
Thornton is exiting the box from the side of Perron at about a forty five degree angle, which isn't lateral according to the body positioning of both players, but is lateral according to the head positioning of both players-- with Thornton exiting the box, the argument for assessing a major is that head positioning might take precedence here considering Perron didn't have the ability to see Thornton coming, something that Thornton was able to see from the time he exited the box to the time he made contact with Perron.
A Game Misconduct comes hand in hand with this rule-- if the referee feels that the head was targeted, the offending player (Thornton) is automatically ejected.
The next question to ask is whether or not this is a suspendable offense. I would think the NHL would be hard pressed to suspend Thornton from this hit, although they will most certainly review it-- there wasn't an intent to injure on the play, Perron came back to skate in the game (for better or worse this is something the League takes into account when assessing suspensions), and it wasn't a hit that blatantly targeted the head.
Thornton's shoulder does make contact with Perron's head, but it wasn't a malicious strike. Coupled with the fact that the play itself is already doused in shades of gray in terms of whether or not it was a five minute major, and one has to believe that Thornton will be in the lineup Saturday night against the.