In the second period of Saturday afternoon’s game, Erik Johnson collided with New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri in what many think was a dirty knee-on-knee hit. Palmieri left the game in obvious pain and was scheduled for an MRI on his right knee sometime on Sunday.
Johnson was assessed a 2-minute penalty for kneeing on the play and after the game, he explained the play from his perspective to Mike Chambers of the Denver Post “I just went to hit him, never changed my course. I haven’t seen the reply but I didn’t feel like I stuck my knee out … I led with my shoulder and I don’t know if he tried to jump around or what have you. But I hope he’s OK. I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
“They deem that that he wasn’t deliberately trying to hit him there with knee on knee,” Chris Johnston of Hockey Night in Canada reported last night that the league had looked at the play quickly and saw no reason for supplemental punishment.
Over the past year or so, player safety has become a key issue doe both the NHL and the NHLPA. Claims have been made by both organizations that improving player safety is a key goal for both. These claims have been bet with criticism by both fans and media because while the league says the right thing, they keep falling back into the same patterns of letting dangerous plays go unpunished.
Whether intentional or not, Erik Johnson’s hit was dangerous. He came in - with speed - and hit Palmieri without full control of his body. He might not have intended on hitting the knee, but he did, and it looks like he’s caused an injury. If the league were serious about player safety, they would at the very least wait more than a few hours before announcing there won’t be supplemental discipline. Wait to rule on the play - look at it again in the morning with fresh eyes.
In fairness, Palmieri saw Johnson coming at the last second and tried to avoid the hit - had he not, the legs likely wouldn’t have become tangled the way they were.
Given the league’s precedent, I personally wouldn’t have suspended him, but I do think it’s the kind of careless hit that puts a spotlight on player safety.
The Avalanche are lucky that Johnson won’t be missing any time for the Johnson is lucky his careless hit didn’t result in an injury on a knee he had surgically repaired.
In the current climate of the NHL, it’s not a suspendable hit - but I can see why some people wish that it would be.