High sticking, is a penalty in hockey which can be defined as striking an opponent on or above the shoulders with one's stick. It has been a rule that has constantly been broken in hockey since the day people first laced up skates in a game. On Sunday February 12th, Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist laid Minnesota Wild defensemen Jared Spurgeon flat on the ice with a vicious strike to the face with his stick. Fortunately, enough for Spurgeon he would be okay, however, Nyquist on the other hand was not so lucky as he received a 6 game suspension and a $158,333.34 fine from the NHL.
This incident sparked a major debate amongst the NHL, its fans and sports analysts due to the fact that this play was clearly intentional. Most people feel Nyquist got off with a slap on the wrist and should have received a much larger penalty, this includes Brian Szymanski, a long-time hockey player and fan. "The NHL got this one wrong," said Szymanski. "I feel he should have gotten at least 10 games for it." The original call on the ice was just a 4-minute double-minor which was later turned into a larger sentence but still, what if Nyquist did this to Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby? Would the suspension be any different?
The NHL has a long history of making the wrong call. Here we have another incident that occurred only days after the Spurgeon one.
In this video, we see Anaheim Ducks centre Antoine Vermette giving linesman David Brisebois a love tap on the leg. Vermette got a 10-game suspension for this and a $97,222.23 fine. Now compare this to the Nyquist high stick and tell me which one you think is worst and should deserve the bigger punishment.
After seeing these two incidents, I decided to do some research and find how many suspensions and fines have been given out in the NHL for high sticking in the last ten years.
Above displays a graph that details how many games players have missed over the last ten years due to suspensions for high sticking. Although this may seem to be fairly low and insignificant, it represents a trend that shows this type of play is not leaving the game and is in fact growing. Over the last few years the "enforcers" have been weeded out of NHL lineups and I feel that may relate to why we're seeing more issues regarding high sticking occur. Fifteen years ago, if a player were to take a high stick to the face, someone would have stepped in and taken matters into their own hands with a fight. Since that generation of play is gone, players feel more comfortable to do as they please and know they won't necessarily have to deal with the repercussions of standing toe to toe with a tough guy. Take a look at the Spurgeon high stick, not one of his teammates stepped in and defended him. Nyquist got away with it and played the rest of the game.
In this graph, you will see another common trend similar to the other graph. The amount of money players have had to pay for the offence of high sticking has grown 11 times the amount it was only a year ago. Now the 2017 year has just sprung upon us and two players have already been suspended and fined, at this pace by the end of 2017 nine players would have been suspended for a total of 72 games and fined a total of $1.15 million. This would be 8 times the amount of games served then the previous high of 8, and 39 times the amount in fines which was $30,408.
Obviously, nobody is perfect, but I feel the NHL needs to do a better job and ensuring player safety. Surgeon was lucky on this one but had Nyquist stick hit him one inch further up, the stick would have hit his eye and we would have had another Bryan Berard accident.
Bryan Berard was a promising young defenseman that had his career cut shorter than expected after suffering a terrible eye injury at the hands of Marian Hossa. Hossa was not suspended for this as the NHL deemed is was accidental, which is very believable. However, accident or not players must be in control of their sticks at all times. After several surgeries, Berard was lucky enough to recover his eye sight to 20/400, which is the leagues minimum requirement to play, but he was only able to play 329 more games.
On the left, we have Bryan Berard before his eye injury. On the right, we have him after.
Looking into the future I hope to see a game where penalties, suspensions and fines like this are not seen. Out of all the cases only two of them involved repeat offenders. Like the old saying goes "respect your opponent but do not fear them" and that's what I feel their players need to have. More respect. I also feel the NHL needs to be harsher when sentencing players and hit them where it hurts the most, the wallet. Like Brian Szymanski said, Nyquist should have easily received 10 games, and I agree. The only way we will see change is if players realize they can't get away with it. Look back four years ago where the NHL implemented automatic ejections and suspensions for hits that involved high contact. Once this one done you saw the number if injuries and suspensions go down. In the end the NHL needs its players healthy and playing and the only way that will happen is if a change is made on how things are operated.
By: Liam Rowe
Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015–16_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014–15_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013–14_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012–13_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011–12_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010–11_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009–10_NHL_suspensions_and_fines - http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/news?slug=suspended -