The Colorado Avalanche beat the Buffalo Sabres Saturday afternoon as the team makes a push towards one of the Wild Card playoff positions in the Western Conference. The game didn’t mean much for the Sabres but as they return to Buffalo, there is a good chance that they could be without their star player for a couple games.
Late in the second period, Sabres center Jack Eichel was assessed a two minute minor for an illegal check to the head of Carl Soderberg and will have a hearing today with NHL Player Safety. It was as close to a text book hit to the head as you can get and there is a very good chance that Eichel receives supplemental discipline from the NHL. It was a hit that is a very clear violation of Rule 48 in the NHL’s playbook and one that the Department of Player Safety has actually done a fairly good job of punishing this season.
As Soderberg was reaching for a loose puck, Eichel came across the ice and lowered his shoulder into his jaw.
On first glance, it looks like it could have been a glancing blow to Soderberg’s arm or shoulder. When you look at the reverse angle, the principal point of contact is very obviously the head.
The biggest issue with the hit - and the reason he’s likely to get a suspension - is the way Eichel shifts the positioning of his shoulder as he makes the hit.
Rule 48 of the NHL’s rule book defines an illegal check to the head as:
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.
That seems pretty cut and dry. From the reverse angle, it’s very obvious that the lower half of Soderberg’s head was the main point of contact.
According to the rule book, suspension will be determined by:
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.
Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.
This is where you could question it. Soderberg was reaching forward and you could argue that he put himself in a vulnerable position. That said, there wasn’t a “full body check” coming. Eichel reached out and made contact in a situation where he otherwise wouldn’t have been making a check on Soderberg.
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.
Soderberg was reaching, but he didn’t change the position of his head in order to put it in the path of Eichel’s hit.
This should be an easy suspension for the NHL. The Department of Player Safety set the precedent just two weeks ago when they suspended Connor McDavid for a very similar hit on Nick Leddy of the Islanders.
Judging from the NHL’s explanation in the McDavid video, it’s hard to see how Eichel won’t be suspended for the hit.
The Buffalo Sabres and their fans are going to argue that Nikita Zadorov should also be suspended for a play earlier in the game.
I see the chest as the main point of contact in this one, but what do you think?