The image above is the front page of this morning’s Ottawa Sun. There’s no doubt that it’s insensitive and over the line. Heck, few would argue that it’s downright disgusting in its brazen celebration of an opposing player’s serious injury. The Senators and their fans (and even the supposedly objective media in Ottawa) have every right to celebrate the team’s victory last night, but to do so in the manner above is simply classless. That much we can agree on.
The hit that led to the above image is much more polarizing. In last night’s NHL playoffs game between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators (which the Senators won 4-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the series), Ottawa defenseman Eric Gryba delivered a crushing hit to Canadiens center Lars Eller. This is how it looked on the television broadcast:
Pretty sickening, right? When the cameras cut to a closeup of Eller lying on the ice and all you see is blood pouring out of his face, it’s hard not to look away. Later, it was revealed that Eller was rushed to a nearby hospital with a concussion and suspected facial fractures, including a broken nose.
The referees on the ice assessed Gryba a major penalty for interference and booted him from the game. Initially, this punishment seemed appropriate. Twitter lit up with calls for Gryba to receive a multi-game suspension from the NHL. Head shots and concussions are an ongoing issue in the league and this appeared to be the latest — and perhaps most egregious — example of a hockey player’s complete disregard for the health and safety of his opponent.
Upon further review of the play, however, opinion of the hit began to change among a large percentage of the audience. When viewed in slow-motion, it becomes clear that Gryba hit Eller after the puck was on his stick, and he didn’t appear to raise his elbow or target the head in any way. In other words, it’s a legal hit by NHL standards. The defenseman should have never passed the puck to Eller in that situation; he was setting him up to get rocked.
Occasionally, completely legal hits result in massive injuries. That’s just the nature of the sport.
This morning, many hockey fans and analysts (outside the province of Quebec, at least) are in agreement that Gryba deserves no supplementary punishment — and many have pointed out that the match penalty he received last night is already more than he should have received. Based on the slow-motion replay, his hit wasn’t interference and it certainly wasn’t a major penalty.
The NHL has yet to make a statement on whether Gryba will be suspended, but it should do so today.