Legal, but Dirty
David M Singer
Oct 1, 2009
Dion Phaneuf gets some air as he collides with Mattias Norstrom, Oct. 23, 2005, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Danny Moloshok
Early into the preseason Dion Phaneuf leveled Kyle Okposo with a hard, legal check. Okposo needed to be helped off the ice by stretcher, and all Islanders on the ice, plus Pascal Morency wanted their shot at Phaneuf.
Okposo has been out since with a minor concussion.
Hard, legal hits that used to only be made by Scott Stevens now seem to be seen with frequency on weekly highlight reels. Phaneuf may be Stevens' successor in crushing checks, but plenty of players seem have been knocked silly by non-penalized hits.
The fighting that follows many of these hits has been debated in the media a lot over the past year. If it's a legal hit, why fight? The frequency of these checks and the frequency of injury is the reasoning behind the fights - and are these legal hits clean hits? Can a legal hit be dirty? That was the question I posed to players and media.
I was surprised to find a lot of the answers were the same. The general opinion is a legal hit is a clean hit, but that's not the end of it. Some say that's the game, and others believe it doesn't matter, and essentially karma will rule the day.
For this observer and fan, it's hard to call these checks completely clean, as legal as they may be. I don't know many fans who don't love hit highlights, but at the same time, it is hard to explain why a two-time All-Star needs to take-out a player entering his second full season - and during a preseason game. A common answer is that everyone needs to keep their head up. True in many cases, although Okposo was pushed right before Phanuef sent him to the ice. Then there are teammates setting up suicide passes (or from this preseason). The last thing the game needs is more rules and legislation, or forcing referees to make more judgement calls. So maybe the hits are a little dirty — but that's just the way the game is.
Can a legal hit be dirty?
- Jamie Allison
- No. I don't think that a legal hit can be dirty. If it's within the rules there is nothing wrong with the hit, which raises the debate: what should be legal and what shouldn't be!
- Damien Cox, Toronto Star
- Tough question. Phaneuf's [hit] was clean, no question. The problematic area is hits to the head when a player has his head down. Shoulder to head, in other words. Often happens when a player is falling. On that, until the NHL legislates against all hits to head, then I guess it's legal. So, to answer your question, I would say, yes, legal is clean.
- Jim Cummins
- Great hit, it was clean and legal, nothing dirty about it. Sorry that kid got hurt, but that's Dion's game and what makes him special!
- Gordie Dwyer
- Legal equals clean, but that is not the point. A guy like Dion is more intimidating than most guys who fight. Guys that fight almost always only have to worry about other guys that fight, but a presence like Phaneuf is intimidating for all players. I'm sure a guy like Okposo will respect that fact the next time he plays a player like Phaneuf and will keep his head up. It is a contact sport.
- Mike Hoffman
- That's a good question, it's such a toss up. More or less it comes down to who did it and to whom. As for that hit, it was Phaneuf (who is a dirty hitter) on an up and coming player with his head down. In that case I'm gonna go with a clean hit and a learning lesson to Okposo. If it were someone like Cam Janssen then I think it turns up a whole new debate, as he's strictly out there to throw those hits and find unsuspecting players.
- Jeff Klein, New York Times
- A hit that is legal can also be dirty, malicious and wrong. And it should have no place in the game. A player should have enough respect for his opponent as a fellow professional — and just as a human being — not to slaughter him when he's not looking. If you're coming into someone and he has his head down, you should lay off a bit. All you need do is separate him from the puck, not from his consciousness or livelihood.
- Jeff Marek, Hockey Night in Canada and Hockey Night in Canada Radio
- I understand the idea of talking advantage of players in vulnerable positions. I've heard how this is a players issue moreso than a league one since players don't seem to have the respect for one another like they did even 20 years ago. I've heard the arguments about how as soon as players started putting on helmets the sticks came up and the respect went down. I've heard the arguments against violent hits in preseason (Steve Downie on Dean McAmmond being the most obvious recent example) since guys are just starting to get their games back after the summer. Again that goes back to the respect issue, I suppose.
However, at the end of the day hockey at the NHL is a violent sport and there will be unfortunate situations where a player like Kyle Okposo of the Islanders gets caught with his head down and is met with tremendous force the likes of which few can deliver like Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf, as we saw this preseason.
Was it a dirty hit? Not by league definition, nor mine either. Did Phaneuf hit Okposo's head? Absolutely. And some say that's enough to make a hit dirty. Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch seems to think so with a zero tolerance policy on head-shots. I personally think that encourages players to skate with their chins tucked into their chest, which in turn will lead to more unfortunate collisions.
Did he target the head? I dunno, but I doubt it. He's been taught, like just about every NHL blueliner, to try to catch guys with their heads down in the neutral zone. If the shoulder happens to catch the chin… oh well. It's a tough sport and everyone knows the risks.
Moreover, ask yourself what would happens when player x decides to not finish his check on a player even one who may be deemed to be "in a vulnerable position"? When he gets back to the bench, what do you think the coach does/says?
Maybe the best point is that hockey is not a contact sport.
It used to be.
Now, more than ever, it is a collision sport. Players are billiard balls slamming into each other with full force and every hit is for keeps. You can't hold up an on-coming attacker to protect your partner on the blueline nor can you get a stick into a guys hip to slow him down and lessen the impact of a body check. Those days are gone in favour of the "fly-zone" NHL. This graying of the area between clean/legal and dirty/cheap is one of the by-products that I don't think many saw coming when the new rules package was green-lighted.
I don't think a legal hit can be dirty I just think some hits resonate more than others and we'll continue to see this trend as the players get bigger/stronger/faster and the league continues to encourage top speed in every zone. If you're looking to blame something for the increased violence-factor with the bodychecks of today… look at the "new rules".
It's not just encouraged, it's expected.
- Brantt Myhres
- If you go by the code of the player, it's dirty. If you go by the code of the NHL rulebook, it's a clean hit. Then you take it upon the players to answer the bell. You don't have to be a tough guy, but when one-year guys get hit like that at center ice, all five of you have to get in there. It doesn't matter if it's clean or not. Even if you see a guy that gets clipped on the knee, if it's a questionable knee-on-knee call, somebody usually reacts to that. If somebody's down and in pain or struggling, somebody else usually comes in and comes to his aide. You'll look at the tape after and see if it's a dirty or not, but it doesn't really matter in the heat of the battle.
- Steve Parsons
- A hit can be both legal and dirty. Basically, if a player is susceptible or vulnerable to a potential injury inducing hit but the hitter is within his right, then it is both... legal and dirty.
So classy players take the opportunity to let up enough to ensure no injury is incurred while a dirty player will go for the kill. Every team needs both kinds of players to be successful, so it is an uncertain element of the game.
Or... Like my Dad always told me.. "If you live by the sword son, you will die by it too."
Dirty hitters will get theirs, the hockey gods will see to it.
- Reid Simpson
- Dirty is a run from behind from, or arms/stick up in the face, or cutting a guys knee out. If you have the puck in my opinion, pretty much anything else goes. So get your head up, and if you turn into the boards because a guy is cutting you off and you go in, well you should have probably known it was coming. Now, if you hit a guy legally and it's excessive, then you are probably going to get beat up by someone on the other team if you can't fight, so take your pick — or have someone else on your team that is going to take care of that for ya… ha!
- PJ Stock, Team 990 and Hockey Night in Canada
- I know you're supposed to respect your opponent and the game, but at the same time it's part of it and everyone has to keep their head up. If you're a guy that makes a living making hits, you need your warm-up just as much as someone scoring or fighting. You have all summer to get ready to hit and all summer to get ready to keep your head up. If it happened in the first game of the regular season I don't think anyone would have an issue with it. I don't have much of a problem with Phaneuf's hit.
- Andy Strickland, 590 The Fan St. Louis and Hockeybuzz
- Sure a legal hit can be dirty when a player is caught in a vulnerable position and intent to injure is there. There is an unwritten code in the league where most players will show a little respect and let up if a player is caught in an awkward position. With that being said, hockey is a tough sport and I have no problem with players who play tough, but within the rules. People have been trying for quite some time to reduce the amount of physical play we see every night in the NHL. The bottom line for me is it’s up to players to be responsible and make sure they’re aware of who’s on the ice for the opposing team. Kyle Okposo should know better than to have his head down in the neutral zone when Dion Phaneuf is on the ice. Some people don’t like Phaneuf, but like it or not that’s the way he plays. You can argue he crosses the line at times and my biggest complaint with Phaneuf was that he didn’t fight after he destroyed Okposo. This is not the first time Phaneuf didn’t answer the bell after throwing his body around. He has a worse reputation among players in the league than most fans probably think and it’s because he walks the line of being a little dirty at times.
- Brandon Sugden
- It's sort of dirty. If one player kills another player open ice, but it's legal, someone's still got to send a message. It doesn't matter if it's a goal scorer or not, you gotta send a message.
- Jeremy Yablonski
- To me legal equals clean. It's hockey, it's a physical game. Keep your head up or you'll get run over!
This article has 29 comments in the message forum.
Editorials are opinions of the author, not this website, the owner of this website or any of its members.