Tuesday, 22 October 2013

We Don't Need A Witch Hunt

If you missed the hit that caused the city of Edmonton to collectively wince all at once, this is the moment where Ottawa's Eric Gryba clipped the knee of Taylor Hall as he attempted to throw a hit on the young star. There has been a response from Edmonton journalists looking for a suspension for Gryba based on the knee-on-knee contact. I'm not so sure that a suspension is warranted based on the overall play that happened, but Gryba should be reminded that there is a price to pay if he leads with his knee, so fine him. But the question for all Oilers fans at this point is what the Oilers will do now that their two of their top forwards are on the IR?

Sam Gagner is still nursing that broken jaw, and isn't expected back until sometime in November. He's hopeful to rejoin his teammates in practice for the first time this season when the Oilers return from their road trip tonight, so that's a good sign. Hall's knee will keep him out for approximately a month, meaning that the Oilers will be without two of the best players for a considerable stretch. If you're the Oilers, it might be time to start worrying a little.

It's still very early in the season, but the Oilers are not playing good hockey right now. They are last-place in the Pacific Division by a large margin, trailing sixth-place Calgary by five points just nine games into the season. Scoring hasn't been a problem at this point, but keeping the puck out of their net has been. Losing one of the key offensive cogs in the Oilers' system may cause blood pressure to rise slightly when considering the Oilers' standing at this point.

So back to the question: suspend or not to suspend?

If you watch the clip in full speed, things look different. There's definite contact on Hall's knee, but one has to take the full sequence into consideration when looking at a "dangerous play".
Let's break this down. First, you can see that Gryba is the last man back, and his intention is to angle Hall into the boards to prevent him from heading into the Ottawa zone with the puck. As Hall attempts to step by Gryba, Gryba widens his base as he works to cut Hall off. It's at this point that Gryba's knee makes contact with Hall's knee.

Secondly, there is no intent in terms of throwing a knee-on-knee check. Had Hall's knee been forward by just a couple of inches, no one would be talking about this. Considering the speed of the play when this happened, this is nothing more than an accident. If Matt Cooke wasn't suspended when his skate blade cut Erik Karlsson, the same logic has to be applied here. Gryba wasn't throwing a knee-on-knee - it just happened in the course of the play. These types of hockey plays happen dozens of times per game, and you can't start a witch hunt on a play like this.

Perhaps the most surprising piece of evidence? This poll in the Edmonton Journal. The majority of votes in the poll - 36.04% - have gone to "No, fair hit, hockey a contact sport". Readers of the Edmonton Journal have actually gone against David Staples' opinion of what should happen, showing that Oilers fans are pretty astute. I'm not saying that they're right, but they are being logical based on the votes that have been submitted. Well done, Oilers fans, in not giving into the public outcry from one man who saw this hit as "a clear knee-on-knee hit, that Gryba made a dangerous play to try to stop a player who had beaten him to the outside. A suspension is warranted".

Sorry, Mr. Staples, a suspension is not warranted. Not even close. If accidents are warrant suspensions, we should remove hitting altogether. Hockey can be a violent game, but we need to look at this in a real-time perspective as I've done above. It's just an accident. They happen. It's unfortunate that it happened to Taylor Hall - who I like as a player, I might add - but accidents DO happen.

Just be thankful that Hall isn't being called in front of Brendan Shanahan for that stick swing at Gryba. The intention there was meaningful, and that was a dangerous play. And wouldn't that just be the icing on the cake if Hall was suspended?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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