No Suspension for Ovechkin

In the wake of last night’s emotionally charged game between the Caps and the Sabres, there were a variety of differing opinions flying about as to whether Washington’s Alex Ovechkin would be suspended for his second period boarding infraction on Buffalo’s Daniel Briere. A few of the denizens of the press room were certain that Ovechkin would draw a suspension, but when I moved to make a wager on it, no one wanted any of it.

I maintain that no suspension was warranted, and can provide a litany of reasons for this opinion. I would also note that of the ex-NHLers and veteran broadcasters I polled who saw the play unfold, none believed any suspension should or would be handed down.

First off, I believe (and a few others I talked with concur) that prior to his ejection, Ovechkin was in the midst of what might have been his best all-around game in the NHL. He was simply marvelous at both ends of the ice, a noticeable factor in every shift he took, and he seemed to have jet fuel in his skates. For those of you who TIVOed the tilt, go ahead and re-watch the first period and a quarter. Watch how quickly he closed on the backcheck and applied back pressure. He blocked a shot, drew a penalty, drew another infraction that would have been called had he not scored a goal immediately thereafter.

How often do you see a guy whose night ended with more than half of the game yet to be played end up as the game’s No. 2 star? I think that Ovechkin’s jump and the extra step he seemed to have might have been a bit of a factor in the play. If you watch the play develop, Briere is skating the puck out of his own end of the ice, along the boards closest to the players’ benches. Meanwhile, you can see Ovechkin skating toward Briere from deep in the Buffalo zone. This is completely in character with the way that Ovechkin — and indeed, the entire Caps team — played Buffalo all night. They skated with them stride for stride, and it’s why they won the game. Every time the Caps turned the puck over in the offensive zone, Ovechkin skated back like he had been launched from a cannon. On one such occasion in the first period, he picked Max Afinogenov’s pocket high in the Washington end and quickly turned around and jetted in the opposite direction. He twisted Sabres defenseman Nathan Paetsch around and scored the goal that sent Ryan Miller to the bench for the rest of the night.

Back to the play in question. You can clearly see Ovechkin’s legs churning hard as he attempts to close the gap between himself and Briere. Before the Buffalo pivot even crosses his own blueline, Ovechkin has pulled virtually parallel with him. By the time the two skaters get to the neutral zone, the only gap between them is a lateral one. By the time Ovechkin gets to the red line, he stops moving his feet altogether and is merely coasting. Just after he crosses the red line, Briere slides to puck along wall into the Washington end. At this point, the two players are nearly shoulder to shoulder. Ovechkin moves to bump Briere. His elbows aren’t high, his legs aren’t moving. Just as he does, Briere turns to go to the bench. Ovechkin applies the hit, and rather than a shoulder to shoulder bump that might have been (at worst) an interference minor, Briere goes into the wall and loses his helmet upon impact.

Did Ovechkin hit Briere late? Yes. Was it done maliciously or with a “dirty” intent? Sure didn’t look like it. Could he have stopped, turned or pulled up? Probably. As I mentioned, he was already coasting. Does Ovechkin usually finish his checks? Yes. Is Ovechkin bigger than Briere? Yes. The Caps’ 2006-07 press guide lists Ovechkin at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. The Sabres’ book has Briere at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds. Did Ovechkin hit him as hard as he could have hit him? I’ll bet if you asked Radoslav Suchy, Colin White, Vitaly Vishnevski or countless other, bigger players who have been on the receiving end of previous Ovechkin bodychecks, they would tell you he did not.

Does the rule book state that the puck carrying player bears part of the responsibility to avoid placing himself in a dangerous and vulnerable position? It does (Rule 42, page 92). And as previously stated, Briere’s turning motion made all the difference in the severity of the hit. Does Briere believe he bears part of the blame for the hit? He does.

“There’s physical, and there’s hitting from behind. That’s a pretty gutless play,” said Briere, in Sunday’s edition of The Buffalo News. “But at the same time, I’ve got to take part of the blame, too. You’ve got to protect yourself a little bit better than I did.”

Does Ovechkin have a history of malicious hits? No. The 20 PIM he picked up in Saturday’s game represents nearly a quarter of his career total of 82 in 107 games. The two major penalties he picked up on Saturday night were the first two of his NHL career, and one of them (the fighting major) was a complete joke. The boarding penalty he got against Buffalo was the second of his career. The first was a two-minute minor in Boston exactly two weeks earlier. Saturday’s game marked the first time this season that Ovechkin had picked up more than two minutes worth of penalties in a single game. In his rookie season of 2005-06, Ovechkin pulled more than two minutes worth of penalties four times in 81 games played.

Last season, Ovechkin ranked seventh in the league among forwards with 172 hits. That’s 172 hits without a single boarding violation. This season, he is tied for ninth among NHL forwards with 62 hits. That’s 234 career hits, two boarding penalties. Does that constitute a history of malicious hits? Definitely not.

How badly was Briere hurt? He laid on the ice for a bit, got up, skated to the bench. Sat there for a minute until the Buffalo trainer insisted he go down the runway for a spell. Returned even before the penalties were announced and play had resumed on the ice. Played 21:08 on the night, nearly 10% above his season average of 19:34. It was the 11th time in 26 games that he exceeded the 20-minute mark. Even spent eight full minutes (four of them after the hit from Ovechkin) cooling his heels in the penalty box during the course of the evening, preventing his ice time total from climbing even higher.

Given that preponderance of evidence and circumstance, I didn’t think there was any way he’d draw a suspension and I was glad to find out today that the league agreed.

Are there plenty of irate and irrational Sabres sympathizers out there who still feel differently? Yes. Will I be receiving irate and irrational e-mails and/or blog comments from them in the near future? Probably.

Will they use spellcheck? Remains to be seen.

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34 Comments on “No Suspension for Ovechkin”

  1. nvacapsfan Says:

    Well done. Too bad the hit is overshadowing his great play last night.

  2. TJ Says:

    Nice report mike. You really put the other professional sportswriters in DC to shame.

  3. CapsChick Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Mike – those of us who saw the play through clear eyes know that while it was a hit from behind it wasn’t malicious. Ovie was having an amazing game and I hope he can put this behind him in preparation for Wednesday’s game against Ottawa.

    He may need to get a filter for comments on his website, though – some fans just have no class.

  4. Tyler Green Says:

    Over on BfloBlog they’re deep into high dudgeon, self-pity, whining and other childish behavior. It’s rather laughable. Meanwhile: They are strangely quiet about Adam Mair kicking a player.

  5. Gavin Says:

    I will first admit that I am a Sabres fan, and for the most part, I had agreed with this entry. But I must ask you these few questions, and hope that you are able to respond to them:

    1. If Briere had hit Ovechkin in the same hit, would you be just as mad (or expect the majority of Capitals fans to be as angry as the Sabres fans were)?

    2. If Briere had been injured… and remember he was incredibly fortunate in his landing that he was not injured (had his head been down the slightest bit… he would’ve had a broken neck), would a suspension have been more deserved?

    3. Do you think that if it were anyone else but Ovechkin that there would have been a suspension? I probably shouldn’t be asking a Caps fan this question, but I hope you realize why I am asking.

    Thanks.

  6. FS Says:

    I’m sure Mr. Vogel is intelligent enough to put some kind of approval system for comments on his blog. Or at least a profanity filter.

  7. FS Says:

    In response to Gavin, Briere did make a dirty hit on Ovechkin shortly before the play, nailing him with an elbow in the corner. Why is no one calling for Briere’s suspension? Because Ovechkin properly protected himself, and because Briere is smaller, and couldn’t do as much damage.

  8. Gavin Says:

    FS, that had no relevance to my question. Two different hits. Elbowing is a 2 minute penalty. Obviously we see the differences already.

  9. Gavin Says:

    And actually a Capitals fan had brought up this incredible point (in response to question #2):

    So should we only give out DWIs if the driver kills/injures someone?

  10. FS Says:

    Gavin, it was completely relevant. Briere did hit Ovechkin, except the hit was much dirtier than the one put on Briere. And there was still no penalty. So if anything, the Sabres are the one getting the gifts.

  11. Gavin Says:

    Also, Tyler. You mentioned childish behavior in your post, now, I haven’t visited that blog, but you’ve shown some childish behavior in your post. The fact that obviously you have failed to watch the video and mention a kicking incident? Perhaps you’re just listening to your fellow childish fans who were quick to judge such an incident. But if you watch the replay, and I mean really watch it… you’ll notice that Mair slipped. Not only did he slip… but his skate barely, and I can’t stress that enough, but barely grazed the … chest … of Muir (or whoever it was).
    Just to set the record straight.

  12. Gavin Says:

    FS, you failed to read my question. Therefore it is not relevant. It is not the same hit. I didn’t see Ovechkin fall face first into an opening door/wall.
    Please read the question before responding.

  13. Dave Says:

    So, I’m sick of everyone constantly arguing about this situation. I won’t say which team I’m a fan of, since I’ve realized everyone is horribly biased. Now carrying on…

    Ovie easily could have let up before hitting Danny. Watch the clip, its all over YouTube. To anyone who says he couldn’t, you’re just displaying your own ignorance. Now the fact that Briere went face first into the boards and COULD have broken his neck therefore ending his career, is easily reason enough to hand out a suspension. The league needs to crack down on these sort of hits/plays.

    There have been plenty of hits between other players that should have also warranted suspensions such as the Regehr on Downey hit or the Mitchell on Franzen hit. YouTube those as well. The NHL easily had the perfect opportunity to prove to players what you can and cannot do, and yet again, they failed.

    I mean seriously, AO receives a $100 fine, I pay more for a pointless non moving traffic violation then what he pays for almost seriously injuring Briere.

  14. Antix Says:

    Gavin-

    I’m not Mike, obviously, but I feel the need to give my own opinions in regards to one of your questions.

    1) Yeah, we would. We’re not saying you can’t be angry. Many of us have said this time and time again, and it’s looking a lot like the Atlanta situation, where Thrashers fans were completely oblivious to what we were saying. Many of us agree that Ovie could have and should have not made the hit. Many of us realize that it was careless. However, MANY Sabres fans have gotten it into their heads that Ovechkin intended to hurt Briere. Many Sabres fans are screaming for their team to retaliate by taking out Ovechkin’s knees or some other potentially season/career ending injury. How is that justified? That’s as immature as one can get. And yeah, judging from the reaction of some Sabres fans, it makes you wonder why we don’t see many Buffalo-natives on Jerry Springer.

    I’ll skip 2 + 3, Mike will cover those in his response.

  15. Gavin Says:

    Over the course of the past 24 hours or so, I could say the exact same thing of many Capitals fans.
    You mentioned that Ovechkin did not intend to injure Briere. I really hope my friend would come in here to respond to that, because it’s an interesting statement that you made. I think the majority of Sabres fans realize that Ovechkin did not mean to end Briere’s career. BUT, the fact remains that there is a HUGE risk involved when boarding a player from behind. I can’t tell you how many people’s careers have ended, injuries, or deaths have occurred from such a hit. I myself broke my collarbone and missed the final 2 months of my final season in high school due to a hit from behind. So due to this risk… it can be said that anyone who hits anyone from behind is intending to injure them.. just because of this risk alone. There’s no arguing that. It’s extremely comparable to a DWI. Someone driving a car while intoxicated is not necessarily attempting to kill someone, but it still happens. There are fines and suspensions to prevent this. Usually in the NHL it’s the same way… so that brings me to question #3… if it were someone else making the hit, would the suspension exist?
    There’s no room in the NHL for these types of hits, and just because Briere was (again) fortunate enough in his landing, not to sustain a career ending injury, doesn’t mean proper action shouldn’t be taken. I fail to see why Gary Bettman would not set an example.

    Honestly, I asked these questions to maybe get a well educated response from the ‘other side.’ This matter is beyond both you and I, and I plan to write a letter to Gary Bettman.

  16. dumpnchase Says:

    Gavin,
    Thanks for reading and writing, and for responding in a civil manner. I am glad Briere is not hurt. As to your questions:

    1. It’s hard to deal in hypotheticals. But if Ovechkin had turned his back as Briere did, I have seen enough hockey to understand that the turn of the body was the biggest factor in the ultimate severity of the hit. There is no way a little shoulder to shoulder bump would have produced the same result. And as far as Ovechkin “hits” go, this hardly qualified. He let up. I do agree he should have made more of an effort to avoid any contact at all, but it’s possible that he was looking to issue a little bump in reply to the earlier elbow from Briere. That’s hockey and that’s human nature. Sure, I understand Buffalo fans being upset. Do you imagine Caps fans are a bit upset about Gaustad coming on and taking a couple punches at our meal ticket before he could even get his gloves off? Gaustad was right to respond in some fashion, I’ll give him that.

    Short answer, yeah I’d be upset if it was a clear cheap shot with malicious intent. (See Sutton, Andy. See Tucker, Darcy.) This wasn’t. And I would expect most hockey fans who’ve seen a few years worth of games and understand the rulebook and the responsibilities of both parties in a situation such as this one to see that as well. I’ve talked to a few neutral observers who found it extreme that Ovechkin got a major and a game misconduct. A double-minor was mentioned more than once as sufficient justice. I don’t have a problem with the major or even the game misconduct, just the fighting major. And as I laid out earlier, no way should there be a suspension.

    2. No. In a case where the rulebook clearly places portions of the burden on both parties, you can’t base the “punishment” on the injury. People are complaining about the $100 fine, but that’s spelled out in the rulebook, too. It’s clear that many of those who are outraged and are venting about this whole thing have still not taken the time to read the pertinent passages. They should. There is a reason for the book’s existence and every word in there, and it has been carefully crafted and re-crafted to protect all concerned.

    3. Under the exact same circumstances, I would not expect any player with Ovechkin’s prior record to receive a suspension of any length. Ovechkin is hardly the league’s golden boy. His fans and the Caps do a far better job of marketing him than the league does.

    I’ve seen virtually all of Ovechkin’s 107 NHL games. I’m guessing Buffalo fans have seen the five he has played against their team and maybe a handful more. A lot of them are making a value judgment as to his character as a player based solely on last night’s incident (and maybe the roughing call from when Biron came out to play the puck in Buffalo last November). I know him pretty well, and have covered him since the day he was drafted. He is not a cheap-shot type of player, and I think the numbers I laid out in this blog entry should spell that out pretty clearly.

    Some have mentioned other hits by other players, but I say apples and oranges. Most of the oother hits noted involved blows to the head and that was clearly not the case here.

  17. JW Says:

    Those calling for a suspension for Ovie should also realize that Rule 42 provides for automatic suspensions for game misconducts for boarding, starting with the _second_ offense, and increasing in length for each additional call.

    You may not like it that Ovie used his “free shot” against your player, but them’s the rules.

  18. Chris Says:

    yes I agree, I was at that game and it was clearly a mistake because he stoped directly after it happened and didn’t fight back when Gaustaud threw a few punches.

  19. Adubs Says:

    I can’t believe you’re defending this hit. Please watch it again.

    It is clear that the puck is gone. It is clear that Ovechkin can see Briere’s back – his entire number – as he turns toward the bench. It is clear that Ovechkin saw all of this and yet still decided to push Briere from behind. And it’s clear that the NHL did not watch this video, because had they, it would’ve warranted at least a game or two suspension.

    If I were a Caps fan, I would wish that Ovechkin was suspended, if only to calm the Sabres down before the rematch on Dec. 26. I hope I get the chance to watch that game.

  20. ZZuvaRuins Says:

    “…it’s clear that the NHL did not watch this video…

    Are you a gambling sort of person? I bet they have seen it.

    “I hope I get the chance to watch that game.”

    Ha ha ha. I’m sure Gary Bettman will be there watching as well, keeping an eye out for any naughtieness you seem to be eagerly thirsting for.

  21. Matthew Says:

    Adubs,

    While I don’t think that the 26th will involve any significant response to this incident… one thing the Caps are is aptly prepared for any response. I think Mr. Brashear would have significant words for anyone trying to cause problems.

  22. DMC Says:

    To answer your questions Gavin:

    1-If Briere had hit Ovechkin the same way, the result would have been the same; Ovechkin on his feet, Briere on his butt – he has neither the strength nor skill to hit as well or as hard as Ovechkin.

    2-Briere wasn’t injured, not even closed to being injured (he lifted his head while on the ice to see where the pass went) so that is a moot point.

    3-It could have been Tucker and it still wouldn’t have been suspension-worthy. Briere was as much to blame for not noticing Ovechkin skating stride for stride at his side and for turning his back at the last second.

    While the hit was a tad late, it wasn’t malicious, it wasn’t vicious, it wasn’t dirty, and it wasn’t cheap. Sabre fans are just upset that the “lowly” Caps took your “elite” team out behind the woodshed and beat them in every facet of the game. It’s easier to focus on what a “punk” Ovechkin is than to deal with a through and complete dismantling of your team.

  23. DMC Says:

    Adubs:

    As someone who saw the play live (as I was in the arena) I can tell you that the puck barely left Briere’s stick when he turned his back toward the play and was then hit by Ovechkin.

    As has been stated above, the NHL watches the tapes on ALL major infractions, that is in addition to tape sent to them by various GMs – which I’m sure Regher and Ruff have already done as they’ve promised to “exact revenge” (still waiting for the “revenge” on Tucker).

    Let the Sabres be more concerned with “getting” Ovechkin than winning the game. Not only will the Sabres lose in the hit and fight department, they’ll lose on the scoreboard as well. And really, do you think your team is stupid enough to viciously and purposefully target the opposition’s star player? Do you really want to get into that game? If you do, I hope you realize that you would have declared open season on Briere, Miller, Biron, Drury, Afinogenov, and the rest of your “skill” or “star” players.

  24. DMC Says:

    Let the Sabres be more concerned with “getting” Ovechkin than winning the game. Not only will the Sabres lose in the hit and fight department, they’ll lose on the scoreboard as well. And really, do you think your team is stupid enough to viciously and purposefully target the opposition’s star player? Do you really want to get into that game? If you do, I hope you realize that you would have declared open season on Briere, Miller, Biron, Drury, Afinogenov, and the rest of your “skill” or “star” players.

    EDIT: Need to add that it won’t be only the Caps going after the Sabre star players … if Buffalo does indeed go after Ovechkin, other teams will see that as a signal to go Sabre hunting.

  25. Dave Says:

    DMC, grow up.

    Your comments are the most childish I have ever read.

    You have no respect for talent or the game in any way what so ever.

  26. Mark Tucker Says:

    Mike,

    Would you please tell Dave and Tarik to write more like you.
    This is the kind of stuff I’d love to see in the Post/Times more often.
    I know there are time constraints, and word limits, yada yada yada, but this is the kind of stuff that will get people talking. And imagine this; people who talk, will involve people who don’t know hockey. Then, they might watch a game they would never have watched otherwise.
    Great work.

    Thanks

  27. fatdaddy Says:

    Would the Sabres like to run the Big O? You betcha.

    Will they? You can’t hit what you can’t catch.

    Much ado about nothing, imho. I concur 100% with the analysis of the blog author.

    Caps are indeed looking hot right now. Let’s hope it continues.

  28. Buffalo Danny Says:

    Yes Buffalo will retaliate after X-mas, but it wont be gunning for a specific player. It will be doing what the Sabres do best…playing some of the most offensively charged hockey you’ve ever seen. The Sabres play their best hockey when they have a purpose OV has a lot of talent, but he dosen’t have a supporting cast like Briere.

    If you’ve ever seen JJ, big ‘ol 68, play in Buffalo, you know how he gets treated and you’ll know the Buffalo fans aren’t going to let OV forget anytime soon.

  29. rob Says:

    dirty hit

  30. J Says:

    After watching the replay a few times:
    1. Ovie tried hard to catch up with Briere so he could reply before Briere left the ice.
    2. Briere was slowing to go off the ice, released the puck, and Ovie gave him a shoulder to shoulder “Hi, I know what you did” reminder
    3. But then, what nobody has mentioned: there was the ref there. Briere was going to crash into him and the ref raised his elbow defensively, to protect himself from a collision with Briere, and I think it was the ref’s raised elbow that took off Briere’s helmet before he went down. Ovie’s shoulder hit couldn’t have done that.
    4. That’s hockey. I don’t think it was a dirty hit. O went in the box. End of story.

  31. chris Says:

    Doesnt matter who you are, how good you are, how good of game you play, the fact is , it was cheap shot, clearly, Danny was simply making a line change after he harmlessly dumped the puck in the zone, he didnt have the puck, and took an unexpected, cheap ass hit from a player, whom if he is “that good” shouldnt play dirty like that. It wasnt just a shoulder to shoulder hit, the hit was unexpected and could have caused a major injury to Danny, let alone any player in that situation. He should have gotten at least a 5 game suspension if not more. If the NHL wants to start calling this interference crap, they better get their acts together with more serious hits, hits that clearly cause injury. The league is all messed up on how they review and handle these situations, clearly it obvious that they take into account who the player was who made the hit, and make a justification from that, which is total bullcrap.

  32. fatdaddy Says:

    Man, hockey is getting pretty soft, if a little love tap like that is supposed to garner suspensions.

    Back in the day, if Briere had elbowed Gretzky in the head like he did Ovechkin, Dave Semenko would have cross-checked him in the mouth.

    Briere walked away from the hit. Deal with it, fer cryin out loud.

  33. fatdaddy Says:

    I note that Mr. Briere recovered sufficiently from his “ordeal” so as to put a hat trick on the board last night.

    He should ask for a “dirty hit” every night.

    Caps – Sens is looking interesting for tonight. Two teams that are red, smoking hot right now, which should make for an enjoyable game.

    Shame that Zednik is out – he’s showing all the signs of getting on a good roll, if he can just stay healthy.

    Prediction time: Caps win 4-3 and bust the ice in the shootout.


  34. If only I had a quarter for every time I came here! Incredible read!


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