Saturday, April 6, 2013

Del Zotto hit on Neal: Dirty and/or suspension worthy? No and No.

Last night in the recap of the Penguins/Rangers game I talked about the weird hit that caused James Neal to miss the final nine or so minutes of the hockey game. Basically what happened is that Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto caught Cooke with an elbow but it wasn't your garden variety elbow. Del Zotto actually had his back turned to Neal and Del Zotto sort of hit him while he back was turned and his elbow clipped Neal.

Here is the YouTube of the hit:

Today we learned that Del Zotto will not face supplimental discipline from the league which means he will neither get a fine or suspension. In all honesty I am OK with that. I know there has been a lot of talk on Twitter today about whether it was a dirty or deliberate hit but to me that is just an unfortunate play that results in a player getting hurt.

It sucks that it was one of the Penguins top offensive stars getting hurt but that is just the way it is.

Here is a breakdown of the play in picture form (yay pictures):

This shot is before anything happens. The puck was played behind the net and Neal is going in to probably initiate contact with Del Zotto, because that is how the Penguins play.

This is right before contact. Above you see that Del Zotto sees Neal coming in and he assumes that he isn't going to be able to square him up face-to-face so he braces to take/give a hit with his back turned to Neal. Del Zotto even said as much in a post game quote:

“I knew I was going to get hit on the forecheck and I just tried to reverse it and brace myself..."

This is when contact happens. Del Zotto his taking/giving the hit with his back turned. It doesn't matter if his skates are on the ice because as we learned a few weeks ago that doesn't mean anything in the eyes of the discipline committee (Shanahan) of the NHL. It is nearly impossible to tell but it seems as if Del Zotto's butt/back comes into contact here with Neal so I don't really think you can say that the principle point of contact was the head.

It also looks as if Neal sort of moves to his right as this happens which sets up for the final unfortunate frame.

This is where the contact with the head comes. As Del Zotto and Neal come together Del Zotto's arm/elbow come up and Neal's head meets them. As you can see by Neal's reaction afterwards he took a good shot and this is something you never want to see happen to any player, even the player you hate the most in the league.

I threw in this final shot because I know some are going to point to this and say that he continues his elbows in a backwards motion through the hit. You can't dispute that he doesn't do this. However, I don't think you can use this to say that this was dirt or intentional. If it were somehow on purpose I don't think you would see both of his elbows go like that at the same time because if he realized where Neal was then why throw up the left elbow that was nowhere near anything? This is just sort of the point when you hit someone you kind of lose control a little bit of where part of you go. It is human nature and motion for your arms to perform that motion after the type of hit that both of them had.

At the time last night I thought it was a good call not to give Del Zotto a penalty and today I think it is a good call that he doesn't get a suspension and I agree that he shouldn't be given a fine either. It is just something that happens during the process of a hockey game and a hockey hit. It isn't a conventional hit so it makes it unique but I chalk this up to being more accidental and unfortunate than malicious and intentional.

I saw a few people saying that you need to be in control of your elbow just like you are supposed to be in control of your sticks at all times. That is a fair point but at the same time wouldn't that mean that you should be in control of your skates at all times? Wouldn't that then make Matt Cooke's hit on Erik Karlsson an illegal hit that should have had a suspension/fine? No, I don't think that everything can be looked at black and white like that and just as I thought the Cooke incident was a complete accident I too think this was just a freak accident.

Sidney Crosby came out a while ago and said that he think all hits to the head should be suspension worthy no matter what. It would take away the ambiguity of situations like this and make it a clear line of what is and isn't legal. If that were the rule and the case in the NHL today then this would be worthy of a suspension, but it is not.

I think there is a place the way today's NHL is called and disciplined that accidental hits can lead to bad injuries where players miss significant time. I think this falls right in that category. As unfortunate as it might be for the Penguins I can't imagine any Penguins fans, or people in general, arguing that a player on the Penguins (or their favorite team) should be suspended if they were in the place that Del Zotto was in last night. It was two guys going after the puck behind the net and Del Zotto tried to do what he thought was best to not get blown up by Neal as Brenden Morrow did the game before when he put a similar check on a Rangers player behind their net.

I hope Neal is OK but a suspension wasn't warranted. Del Zotto was making a play and I think if the sides were flipped there wouldn't be any Penguins fans thinking it was an intentional elbow. These are some of the consequences of playing a physical sport.

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