Oct 27, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing Dubinsky's Hit on Saku Koivu, Was it Illegal?

By now everyone has either seen or heard about Brandon Dubinsky‘s hit last night on Saku Koivu at the end of the second period. The call on the ice was interference and an illegal hit to the head, earning Dubinsky 5 minutes and a game misconduct.

First off, we certainly hope that Saku Koivu is okay, whether it was legal or not, it was a pretty nasty hit. As with any questionable hit, there are a range of opinions, and it seems everyone was broken down each frame of the play like it is the Zapruder film. I have seen everything from “it was a clean hit” to “clearly a head shot”. My opinion on the hit went through three different phases: my initial reaction, my reaction after the replay, and my reaction in post game analysis.

My initial reaction (before seeing a replay) was that it did not look good for Dubinsky. I saw him leap up (possibly leaving the ice), hit Koivu high, and saw Koivu’s head snap back. This would indicate a head shot, and I am sure that is why the officials decided it warranted the game misconduct.

Moments later, Fox Sports showed the replay, and I saw that while the hit was high, Koivu skated in low, and both he and Dubinsky braced for the impact. The momentum of the hit is what caused Dubinsky to move in the upward motion,  and he did not launch himself upward (as I initially thought). It was still unclear whether the contact was with the head, as I could still see Koivu’s head snap back at the moment of the hit.

Oct 27, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly after the game, Harrison Mooney over at Puck Daddy posted an article about the hit and included a GIF from HF Boards. The GIF clearly shows that Koivu is skating in low and can see Dubinsky coming (he braces for impact, proving that it was not a blind sided hit). Another important fact is that Dubinsky clearly tucks his elbow and arm in, and does not drive it outward at Koivu’s head (this is not a case of head hunting). Even more important is the fact that the principal point of contact is NOT Koivu’s head, but his upper shoulder and his stick. As Dubinsky hits Koivu’s shoulder, he also hits his stick, which then connects with Koivu’s face, driving his head back. While it is possible that Dubinsky’s shoulder could still make contact with Koivu’s head after the stick, I don’t think it is likely, as Koivu’s head is already moving back after being hit.

After the game Dubinsky said that he felt he tucked his arm and elbow in, and was not trying to make contact with Koivu’s head. When it comes to how the Department of Player Safety will react to the hit, it seems Dubinsky is just as much in the dark as we are. In the first few weeks of the season, there have been several trips made to Brandon Shanahan’s office and some pretty hefty suspensions handed out. There has been no indication as of yet whether Dubinsky will receive a phone call or an in person hearing in New York.

If I had to guess, Dubinsky gets a phone call from the Department of Player Safety and maybe a 1-2 game suspension (and even then I feel that is somewhat excessive). While Dubinsky was certainly not “head hunting” and does not have a prior record of head shots, I believe Shanahan will see the play as a careless hit that Dubinsky could have avoided. I will be very surprised if this is the type of hit that warrants an in-person meeting and a 5 game+ suspension. The intent to injure is just not there.

Brandon Dubinsky plays with a lot of passion and intensity and sometimes that means a border line hit or taking a dumb penalty or two. I don’t condone hitting other players in the head, but a few years ago this hit is seen as nothing more than a good hockey play. However, in today’s hightened state of concern for player safety, it warrants a second look by the Department of Player Safety and a verbal explanation to Dubinsky as to where the line of “good hockey play” and “reckless / dangerous hit” currently stands.

Update: TSN’s Bob McKenzie has reported that the NHL will NOT seek supplemental discipline for Dubinsky’s hit on Koivu

 

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