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Why no meeting or suspension for Steve Downie was the wrong decision by the NHL


Oct 10, 2013


As Roman Josi remains out indefinitely with a concussion, did the NHL get the call right by deciding not to have a hearing or to suspend Avalanche forward Steve Downie? Based on a frame-by-frame breakdown of video evidence, one would be inclined to believe otherwise.

This evening, Brendan Shanahan of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed down a three-game suspension to San Jose Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart for an illegal check to the head of New York Rangers forward Rick Nash. At the time of the incident during the game on Tuesday night, Stuart was given a two minute minor for elbowing. The following morning, the NHL announced that Stuart would have a hearing with Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety that day in response to the hit.

While Stuart’s hit on Nash was deemed an illegal check to the head by Shanahan, Stuart had only one previous suspension in his current 15 year career in the NHL: a stick infraction during the 2000-2001 season. Stuart’s suspension video, in it’s entirety, can be viewed below:

Before fully dissecting the Downie/Josi hit, flash backward seven months. On March 3rd, Harry Zolnierczyk was suspended four games for a hit that showed quite a resemblance to the hit that Steve Downie laid on Roman Josi. While Zolnierczyk’s skates left the ice milliseconds prior to hit, Brendan Shanahan noted that the key points for the suspension were: “This was charging; Lundin suffered a serious injury because of the hit; Zolnierczyk has not been fined or suspended previously in his 43 game NHL career”.

Zolnierczyk was suspended four games due to an illegal charge to the head, a hit that left Senators defenseman Mike Lundin with a concussion and missing nearly three weeks of regular season games.

The video of his suspension, via the NHL Department of Player Safety, can be viewed below as well:

Neither Zolnierczyk or Stuart, per the words of Brendan Shanahan himself, had an applicable history of suspension or any history at all. Both were suspended, however, a handful of games for their respective hits.

Yet, in the case of Steve Downie, there is an applicable history of suspensions and increasingly borderline hits on opposing players.

Step back six years ago. During preseason action with the Philadelphia Flyers, then-rookie Steve Downie delivered a leaping hit to 13-year veteran and Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond. After a hearing with league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, Downie was suspended for 20 games, nearly a quarter of his first NHL season. That hit can be viewed below:

Nearly three seasons ago, Downie delivered a very similar check to the one he put on Roman Josi to then-Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy in the first round of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Downie’s hit would go unsuspended, possibly to the fact that Lovejoy bounced back up moments after the hit and the Penguins scored on the ensuing delayed penalty. That hit can be viewed below:

Then, on Friday night, Steve Downie delivered the following hit to Roman Josi. In the clip via Altitude TV, there are three distinct replays of hit on Josi, from three different angles:

The first angle, a normal television angle, shows Downie’s skates level with the ice in the first frame before he bent his left knee, slowly lifting his skate off the ice in the second frame. In frame three, the skate appears to be off the ice while Downie initiates contact, completing his check in the fourth frame.

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The second angle, a closer view than the first, shows Downie’s skates level with the ice in the first two frames, before beginning to lift his feet in frames three and four, even moreso in frame five when he begins to connect with Josi, before finishing the check in the sixth frame. This could quite possibly be the clearest look at the hit when slowed down to a frame-by-frame look.

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The third and final angle, the closest of the three, displays Downie’s skates and eyes on a level plane heading towards Josi in the first frame. His left skate begins to lift in the second and third frame, before it appears that his entire skate lifted clear off the ice in the fourth and final frame.

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While all three of these video frame breakdowns aren’t of the highest definition, it makes Brendan Shanahan’s tweets about the hit seem a bit curious.

“Downey/Josi: Part 1 Downey’s skates are on ice at impact. He does not launch up at Josi. Josi is low & attempting…

“Part 2 …to avoid the hit. Downey’s elevation comes AFTER contact, as a result of impact & rolling over him.”

The biggest question is of Shanahan’s note that Downie did not “launch up at Josi”.

NHL rule 42.1 for Charging states that “A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.” Downie did receive a two minute Charging penalty for his hit on Roman Josi.

Contrary to Shanahan’s take on the hit, in my opinion and the video frames of the hit, Downie left his feet and elevated into Josi. Regardless if it was determined that he didn’t elevate before contact, he clearly elevated after contact. Which begs the question: if a player such as Zolnierczyk, who at the time had no history of suspension, can be suspended for causing a player to “suffer a serious injury because of the hit”, how come this isn’t a factor in all potential suspensions?

In my opinion, it’s very difficult to make the assumption that Downie’s elevation came as a result of the check on Josi and not as a result of the player’s intention, especially based on the video and image evidence showcased above. With Downie’s previous history of suspensions and questionable hits, how come at least a meeting with the NHL (either by phone or in person) wasn’t required? Stuart and Zolnierczyk, one with no trouble in over a decade and the other with no history, each had meetings for questionable/borderline hits and were duly suspended for their actions.

Is it a bias? Dirk Hoag at On The Forecheck broke down some interesting statistics of suspensions based on the team, with surprising results.

If the Department of Player Safety had requested a meeting with Steve Downie, odds are we wouldn’t be discussing this right now. However, as they didn’t and another suspension stemming from a hit that was marginal compared to the violent impact suffered by Josi, we are talking about it.

Brendan Shanahan isn’t going to get every call correctly, nobody is perfect, however this particular issue appeared to have been met with nonchalance more so than actual interest. Roman Josi was the recipient of a violent charge that resulted in a concussion and an indefininte timetable to his return. The player responsible for issuing the check has recorded nearly three times the amount of penalty minutes in comparison with the number of games he has played in his NHL career.

With two tweets from Shanahan himself, and a whisper from the league mentioning that no hearing would be issued, Roman Josi was left with a concussion, the Predators were left to fill the missing hole on the blue line, and the NHL had swept this particular questionable hit under the proverbial rug.

Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua