Once again, the NHL headlines will be dominated by an incident of a player using the vulnerability of another to excuse trying to end his night, season, maybe career. This one isn’t as cut and dried as Sunday night’s chicanery, though no less ugly.
The Rangers’ Jacob Trouba caught Chicago’s Jujhar Khaira with the puck at his feet and his head down. At first blush, it looked like a normal hockey hit. With slow-motion replays, which can be used to go both ways admittedly, Trouba’s first point of contact was Khaira’s head, and his hands were high meaning his shoulder or forearm were high, too. He also comes from a distance, though not a total cavalry charge.
This isn’t as clear as Jason Spezza’s assault on Neal Pionk on Sunday. Trouba can at least claim that the puck was around there and it’s a hockey play. It falls into the same category as the NFL’s policy on hits on wide receivers focused on the ball. What we used to think of as just a good, though aggressive, play we now view as predatory.
If the goal is to knock Khaira simply off the puck, with his head down and having no idea where Trouba is, Trouba could basically stand still and accomplish the same, which at the base of it, is the idea of a bodycheck. Separate man from puck, or pressure him while he has the puck into a turnover. This goes beyond that.
Still, there is an argument that much like any QB who leads his receiver too far over the middle with a pass, or doesn’t recognize a blitz, you can put yourself in a vulnerable position. Just as in hockey when a player turns toward the boards at the last second. Khaira here is looking for the puck, oblivious to anything around him.There is some responsibility on the player who gets it (or the one who puts him there in the case of the bad pass in football), but where is that line? How do we safely draw it? The only way to safely draw it is to overcompensate.
It is a change to the game. The threat of this kind of thing from players like Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger definitely made opponents jumpy and their control of the puck just a little more loose. That has value, too, though how much is hard to figure out. Just like hitters can dive over the outside corner of the plate without fear of an up-and-in fastball, changes how pitchers pitch and baseball is played. There is value in that in every sport. But can we keep that value without risking livelihoods?
Whatever hockey fans think of this, and believe me they’ll yell about how this just used to be a quality hit back in the day and that the LIBTARDS are ruining sports again, we know better now. While it is a change, protecting players is worth it. Khaira has a concussion history, so who knows when he might be back. Just because a player is available to be cleared out doesn’t mean he has to be. Same with a receiver stretching for a pass. Trouba has enough time here to assess what to do, and chose the injury-causing path.
The thing it comes down to is trust. Not trust that opponents will simply let you go with nary an objection. But there should be a trust between professionals — who have the same goals, the same concerns, the same fragility — that any position of vulnerability isn’t an excuse to put all of those things in jeopardy simply because it’s an option. Yes, they’re opponents. They’re also fellow pros and belong to the same union.
Sports always carry risk of injury, especially contact sports. There was always going to be contact on this play, even if Trouba just reached for the puck. Why is it necessary to go for the killshot?
Trouba will explain that in his upcoming hearing, I’m sure.