There are two completely separate issues when we look at Niklas Hjalmarsson's hit on Jason Pominville. There's the response from the NHL that has yet to come. And there's the response from the Sabres players.
The first issue is fairly simple. Niklas Hjalmarsson needs to be suspended. If the NHL is serious about protecting players from concussions, this is a perfect time to set an example. It’s tough to take the emotion out of it as I am admittedly a Sabres fan. But let’s turn the tables here; what if the same hit had been Leopold hitting Patrick Sharp from behind? I think that the suspension should most closely match how long the player is out. Without knowing how long Pommer will be out I come to a rather arbitrary number of 10 games. To Chicago fans that might seem punitive and they’d be right. All summer The NHL has been talking the talk on hits to the head. Well it’s time to walk the walk, NHL. How committed is this league to stopping hits like that? If the suspension is less than 5 games I will be outraged and lose respect for the NHL. If it’s more than 10 I’ll agree that Hjalmarsson is being made an example by the NHL.
The next issue is muddy. What should have been the response of the Sabres players? As a fan I want to see blood. I wish that Craig Rivet had immediately gone ‘Rob Ray’ on Hjalmarsson. That didn’t happen. Ironically, concussion prone Tim Connolly was the only Sabre who went after Hjalmarsson. Rivet claimed that he didn’t see the hit. That’s good enough for me. I wouldn’t expect someone to act without having seen the perpetrator. As Hjalmarsson’s reputation seems to be buying him a reprieve in this matter, the Sabres reputation as a soft team is getting them more negativity than is deserved. Check out the link below to see how the Edmonton Oilers responded to Clarke MacArthur’s hit on Liam Reddox last year. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qPWvGt7aLk Similar situation similar result; just a bunch of guys standing around and no punches. The Edmonton Oilers are tough, right? So why didn’t the bench clear and kill Clarke MacArthur? You get my point; that’s just not the way things are done.
The Sabres had a 5 minute power play coming. Lindy Ruff isn’t going to send out the goons to send a message at the beginning of a 5 minute PP. His job is to win games. Likewise, the players who send messages, Gaustad, Kaleta, Grier, McCormick were not on the ice for the remainder of the 1st period. Those players did start a fight 5 minutes into the 2nd period. See the link to view the fight: http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/97554 . It was their first opportunity after the 5 minute PP and intermission. Objectively looking at the Sabres players response, I think it was appropriate and enough…for now.
This brings us to the opinion portion of the article. For those of us who still want some kind of retribution; we get to play Chicago again in 4 days. Hjalmarsson will most likely be serving a suspension, but I wish they’d let him play that one game so he could get his medicine. I’d like to see Paul Gaustad do the honors. If Hjalmarsson does not play, I’d like to see Ruff send an early message by taking some clean runs at their star players. Maybe put the 4th line out against the Toews line to start the game? After one good scrap or a few big hits on Kane, Toews, Sharp, I’ll be willing to call it even.
My personal opinion of the hit: I keep hearing people saying, ‘Niklas Hjalmarsson isn’t a dirty player’. THAT IS IRRELEVANT. Well now he’s a clean player who delivered a DIRTY hit from behind. The hit was not even close to being shoulder to shoulder as the Blackhawks D-Man claimed in post-game interviews. I heard someone say, ‘Well, Hjalmarsson is taller so his shoulder went into his head.’ NO! If you hit someone from behind, size is irrelevant. They will go down. Jason Pominville is not at all a rough player but he is a tough player. He has played four straight seasons of 82 games. That is amazing in a sport where injuries are common and bodies are flying everywhere.
The next important detail to get clear about this hit may have been a mistake but IT WAS NOT AN ACCIDENT. Clarke MacArthur’s hit last year on Liam Reddox of Edmonton was an accident. Hjalmarsson had Pominville lined up from a mile away, back turned the entire time, and he followed through while looking at the nameplate. I know the game is fast and players make mistakes, but this is a mistake that Niklas Hjalmarsson has to face up to. He needs to face up to the NHL and the Sabres players should have held him accountable on the ice.
As much as I get into the games and scream ‘kill him!’ at Chris Neil, I don’t REALLY want anybody to get hurt. Concussions or neck injuries can affect not only your career but quality of life. I don’t think Niklas Hjalmarsson is a dirty player and as long as he doesn’t keep hitting from behind, his reputation in the league will bear that out. The fact remains that one of our first line players is out of the lineup as the result of an illegal hit. Even when players fight they stand face to face before they start punching. This was a cowardly hit from behind on a defenseless player. If the NHL is honestly trying to take these hits out of the game, let’s see Hjalmarsson sit out a few games for his mistake.