Although San Jose dropped an absolute howler of a game last night against Boston, much of the attention was focused on Zdeno Chara’s third period headshot on Evander Kane. With the Bruins defenseman making Kane’s head the principal point of contact, many expected a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety to follow in short order, especially given that these are exactly the types of hits that the league has been cracking down on recently.
In the clip below, Chara’s shoulder appears to smash directly into Kane’s face, snapping the forward’s head back and enraging him to the point of immediately fighting the Bruins defenseman. Chara received two minutes for elbowing during the game itself, though it was offset by Kane’s instigator minor, and many felt that it would be the start of more discipline to result from the hit.
NHL Player Safety is taking a look at Chara’s hit on Kane. Whether or not anything comes of it, we shall see. https://t.co/7SJq750KuR— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 27, 2019
However, this morning, Pierre LeBrun reported that the league had taken a look at the incident and decided to let it pass without a hearing. This decision meant that Chara would face no supplemental discipline of any kind, whether a fine or a suspension, for his hit last night.
No hearing for Chara, according to league spokesperson— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 27, 2019
Rule 48 of the NHL’s rulebook states that “a hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.” The key to understanding the NHL’s decision is in the last sentence — the league appears to have viewed Chara’s check to the head as unavoidable given the seven inch height difference between the 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman and the 6-foot-2 Sharks winger and the angle at which the two approached each other.
Interestingly, that specific phrase was added in during the 2013 offseason; before then, any contact to the head was classified as illegal. Elliott Friedman broke it down as follows:
How do you determine if the hit is avoidable? There are three circumstances to be considered:
First, whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.
Second, whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.
Third, whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.
Many would look at the above hit and say that Chara refused to change direction and finished a late check to the head on an opponent that did not have the puck (making the hit entirely illegal). However, the league appears to have interpreted the hit as a result of Kane putting himself in a vulnerable position and skating into Chara, with his head coming up immediately before Chara delivered his hit. When combined with the height difference between the two, the league decided that the headshot was unavoidable and decided not to punish Chara.
However, it’s hard to look at Chara’s hit and think it’s anything but suspension-worthy, especially in light of Erik Karlsson’s suspension earlier this year and Connor McDavid’s recent two-game suspension for his hit on Nick Leddy. Comparing the McDavid hit below to Chara’s, the latter appears to be significantly more dangerous and late, making the lack of suspension even more questionable.
The decision was roundly criticized by several observers around the league, who felt Chara clearly laid a late, avoidable and illegal hit to the head on an unsuspecting opponent. Irritatingly, this was not the first controversial instance of officiating this year involving the Sharks and the Bruins. The first meeting between these two teams saw a blown high-sticking call cost the Sharks a win and prompted the NHL to call Pete DeBoer to (presumably) apologize.
The headshot was far from the most concerning thing about last night’s loss, however. Significantly more focus will be directed towards Erik Karlsson, who appeared to suffer a recurrence of his groin injury.
San Jose will play next on Friday against the Avalanche.