In Friday night’s game against the New York Rangers, Stars’ forward Cody Eakin crushed Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a devastating hit behind the net. 10 minutes into the first period, the Rangers were halfway through a powerplay before Eakin plowed into Lundqvist and forced him to temporarily exit the game.
Eakin had a hearing for the hit and the Department of Player Safety ultimately suspended the forward for four games. They explained why they decided on four games here.
After the suspension was announced, I heard from a lot of people that they thought the suspension was a fair punishment. Some people were even surprised Eakin got four games, thinking he’d get less since Lundqvist wasn’t injured on the play. But I for one am (once again) very disappointed in the Department of Player Safety.
Eakin’s hit was bad; I think we can all agree on that. But what makes this truly one of the worst things I’ve seen in the NHL is the complete disregard for the safety of Lundqvist by Eakin. Neither I nor anyone other than Eakin can say if he intended to hit Lundqvist that hard but there is absolutely no need for this hit.
With the Rangers on the powerplay, what is Eakin trying to accomplish with this hit other than to forcefully hit Lundqvist hard? It may seem like a redundant question but the chief objective in hitting an opponent is to regain possession of the puck, not to injure the player. So when we have plays where a player has no interest in getting the puck and tries to injure the player instead, we have a dangerous and unsafe play.
By the time Lundqvist gets rid of the puck, Eakin is already barreling down on Lundqvist. But instead of slowing down or getting prepared to go after the puck, he continues to go after Lundqvist and targets his head, accelerating upwards into him.
With Lundqvist not prepared for such a hit, he is violently knocked to the ground and forced to be removed from the game. Even though he did not get injured, he could have just as easily been concussed or much worse from the hit.
What I’ve also heard from some people is that since Lundqvist was out of the crease, he’s fair game to be hit by Eakin. Even when completing disregarding that Eakin contacted Lundqvist’s head, a goalie should not have to expect being bulldozed by an oncoming player when he’s behind the net. With vastly different equipment and a very different job to do during games, goalies are increasingly more vulnerable to these types of hits and should not have to face these sort of situations. I think Blue Seat Blogs hit the nail on the head when they said in their thoughts on the hit,
“the equipment is simply not built for it. The design of a goaltender’s equipment is specifically for stopping the puck. Any goalie coach worth anything will tell young goaltenders to always have their bodies facing the play, because the equipment is essentially backless when it comes to padding. Facing the shot head on is imperative to safety. The impact absorbing nature of the pants and chest and arm unit are specifically engineered to minimize impact in small, localized areas (where a puck hits you), they are not engineered to displace impact from an object the size of a players shoulder or entire body, for that matter”
But enough about the hit. I’m just as disappointed in the Department of Player Safety. Yes, Eakin was suspended (which is a good thing) but once again I feel as though the DOPS doesn’t have a clear objective on what they want to do and it shows when they deal with cases like this.
Logically, the Department of Player Safety is looking to keep players safe. They do this by giving suspensions and fines to players who violate the rules as punishments. But most people think this is all it should do. The Department of Player Safety shouldn’t just deal out punishments; its job is to keep players safe. So what’s the best way to keep players safe? By not having these sorts of plays happen in the first place. Instead of punishing, shouldn’t the DOPS look to end these things before they happen again and try to prevent them?
No goalie should ever be hit like how Lundqvist was hit and the Department of Player Safety lost a great opportunity to prevent future incidents like this. What if the DOPS really threw the book at Eakin and handed him a 10-game suspension or more? You can be sure that a player would think twice about doing the same thing Eakin did. But a mere four-game suspension barely does anything. Yes, it does punish Eakin but it won’t potentially stop another play like this from happening again.
And lastly, there’s one more important issue I find with the play. Some people were against a really long suspension because Lundqvist was not injured on the play. This is a terrible way to judge the length of suspension. Whether or not Lundqvist gets injured on the play should have no effect on Eakin’s punishment. Eakin did what he did, regardless of the final outcome of an injury or not, and should be dealt with accordingly. In the future, what if a very similar scenario plays out and the goaltender it happens to is out months with a concussion? His career may be in jeopardy and he doesn’t return back to the game after the hit. The player who hit the goalie should probably be suspended longer than Eakin right? But Eakin and the player did the same thing so why should they be punished differently? Because of how Lundqvist’s head and the example goalie’s head react to a forceful impact differently?
A long suspension would have set a powerful precedence and a clear message from the Department of Player Safety: “Goalies will be protected on the ice”. But with only a four-game suspension, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said it best a few years ago. Open season on goalkeepers.