Sunday, January 09, 2011

Enough Already!

More ink has been devoted to Sidney Crosby's medical condition over the past few days than has been spilled in chronicling Justin Bieber over the last year, with as much point to it. One of the subplots here is that his concussion was actually suffered as a result of a hit he took in the Winter Classic against the Caps on New Year's Day. And within that subplot, there is the none-too-subtle suggestion -- much of it from Crosby himself -- that David Steckel's hit on him that might have caused the injury was outside the rules. In fact, there is the whiff of "intention" in some of the comments.

We are tempted to use a Bruceism here. We do not claim to be utterly unbiased in looking at the play in question, but we do think a compelling case can be made that the play was a hockey play that went wrong for Crosby. And we have several snapshots from the NBC/CBC coverage of the game to offer to support that point of view. One angle of the play provides the following:

In the first frame we have what really started the play. Karl Alzner backhanded the puck in an effort to clear it out of the zone, and Crosby tried to block the clear with his right leg…

Having missed on his attempt to block the clear, Crosby turns to see where the puck has headed, but look at his lean and his skates. In turning to see where the puck headed, his body is turning, too, causing him to start to circle to his right.

In the third frame, his momentum is starting to carry him further to the right, but he is still in motion in a direction opposite of a number of Capitals skating out of the zone in pursuit of the puck.

In frame four, Steckel enters the picture, also heading up ice as the puck heads toward the Pittsburgh end. Crosby’s head is still turned, and he appears unaware that Steckel is heading in that direction. More to the point, Crosby seems unaware that his momentum has caused him to slide into Steckel’s skating path.

At the moment of impact, Crosby is still turned as if looking for the puck, and Steckel looks to be trying to duck under him. The problem here is simple matter of dimensions. Crosby is listed at 5’11”, while David Steckel is 6’5”. The six inch difference in height places Steckel’s shoulder at approximately the same plane as Crosby’s head. If there is going to be a collision, there is where it will be.

From our point of view, frame six – just after the collision – provides the clearest evidence that the hit was not intentional, at least in the sense that Steckel was trying to get a free shot at a vulnerable Crosby. His position, with his arm extended and his right shoulder lower than that of his left, suggests that he was trying to duck around Crosby to jump into the play. If a player wanted to deliver a blow, he might be expected to keep his arm tucked and drive his shoulder into the other player. That is not in evidence here.

A series of shots from behind the play suggest the same. In the first frame, Karl Alzner is the player crossing from left to right in front of Crosby (in the rear in this shot) backhanding the puck past Crosby and up ice. Steckel (39) is in a defensive position behind Alzner.

In the second frame Alzner has crossed to the edge of the left wing circle. Matt Hendricks (on the left of this frame) is already in pursuit of the puck, and Steckel is just getting underway. But again, look at Crosby. He has already turned and started circling to his left, which will bring him into Steckel’s path.

In the third frame, it is evident that Crosby has moved a few feet closer to the left wing boards and directly into Steckel’s path. Steckel looks to be trying to avoid the obstacle Crosby presents in an effort to join the play.

In the next frame, Crosby has been struck by Steckel, who is continuing along his path up ice, trailing Hendricks.

Finally, Crosby is on the ice, but Steckel still has the lean in his posture that suggests he was trying to jump around to the left of Crosby to avoid the collision and join the rush up ice.

No one who respects the sport, even among Caps fans, can take comfort in seeing a player injured. Even if that player is Sidney Crosby. But no one who respects the sport, even those fans of Sidney Crosby, can take a clear-eyed look at the tape and assume that Steckel’s hit was “dirty” at worst, irresponsible at best. But we have commentators such as Don Cherry who, upon seeing the tape, remarked off-handedly, “funny [Steckel] hit his head," implying that there was no coincidence here. Even Crosby remarked later that “It's really tough to decide if he meant to or didn't mean to. I feel like he could have gotten out of the way and avoided me. Whether he tried to hurt me, only he knows. I guess we'll never know that, but you still have to be responsible out there.”

There are players in this league who would have taken that free shot at Sidney Crosby or another player in that situation. You might argue that Crosby shares a locker room with one of them. But David Steckel has nothing in his past to suggest he is one of those players. He has seven penalties this season, six minors and a fighting major. That fight is one of four that Steckel has in his NHL career, one fewer than Crosby. He has a career total of 106 penalty minutes in 270 games, an average of about 25 seconds of penalty time a game. By comparison, Crosby has 387 penalty minutes in 412 career games, a rate more than twice that of Steckel (and yes, Crosby averages almost twice as much ice time per game as does Steckel).

There is an issue that deserves some consideration, though. Rule 48 was instituted to protect players from blind side hits. Rule 48.1 states: "A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted." One can say with great confidence that Steckel did not “target” Crosby’s head, but even Caps fans would have to acknowledge that it was the “principal point of contact.” The mitigating factor in this is that Crosby came into Steckel’s skating path as Steckel was trying to make a play, in this instance to join on a rush up ice. That kind of condition is not accounted for in Rule 48, which states with clarity that “targeted” or “point of contact” head shots are forbidden.

Had Steckel been penalized under Rule 48 (which requires a major penalty assessment), one could make a case that it was warranted. The rule addresses an act without regard to intent or circumstance. But please, don’t be making the case that David Steckel is a dirty player or that he took advantage of an opportunity to injure, or at least deliver a blow to an vulnerable opponent. This was an unfortunate incident that has and will have effects on the Penguins, at least for the next week or so. It isn’t any more than that, try as some might within the narrative of the Capitals/Penguins rivalry narrative to make it so.


Anonymous said...

You don't turn on the ice with your head down. They teach you that at every level of hockey. It was a high school play by Crosby, nothing more.

dfe said...

Nice job as usual, Peerless.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous...Crosby didn't have his head down. Did you even read the analysis?

Anonymous said...

great diagnostic piece peerless! i thought it was incidental contact and not malicious. great research.

exwhaler said...

No, Crosby didn't have his head down. He did, however, have his head completely turned around and looking up the ice, skating around in a nice circle without paying attention to where he was headed as the flow of play rushed by him, and skating blindly and directly into the path of a pursing player.

So, who's supposed to be the responsible one, again? Steckel had no time to completely avoid Crosby, who initiated contact (Steckel even wasn't skating toward Crosby initially). What's bothersome is that Crosby is lecturing about players taking responsibly for what they do on the ice; yet, he's the one who created the issue with a completely irresponsible hockey play on his part, which in turn caused his injury. Now, he's trying to pass the buck and put the responsibility on Steckel, because he claims that Steckel should have seen him rather than looking up the ice. You know, like Sid was, with his body turned and skating completely the other direction.

I didn't like what happened to Sid; no self-respecting fan of the game enjoys seeing a great player laid out in a such an arbitrary manner. But Steckel didn't mean to hit him, didn't want to hit him (as his last-second duck should show), and such collisions are commonplace in hockey, made worse when one of the players is completely oblivious to what's going on around him. That's on Sid.

Burton said...

Nice. Can you please take a stab at the Zapruder film?

Anonymous said...

I don't like to see anyone get hurt but I do take exception to hypocrites. Crosby whines about someone else taking responsibility for what they do on ice and yet he takes liberties all over the ice. Witness the slash on Hendricks prior to the Steckel hit that was not called by the officials but was called by Pierre McGuire (with three clear references), and the slew-foot to Callahan in a previous game against the Rangers (, and his response of innocence.

I would argue Crosby is probably the best player in the game today but I would also argue he is one of the most childish, and I have no respect for him as a person. And unlike so many Penguin sycophants, I would be saying exactly the same thing if he were playing for the Capitals or any other team.

If we're going to argue the rules about the hit shouldn't Crosby at least be considered for interference, regardless of whether said interference was caused by impeding Steckels progress with his head.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd,No ref saw the hit because it was behind the play.When you look at it a few times it is quite obvious that Crosby interferes with steckel.If any call could be made here it would be 2 minutes to 87 for interference.

Anonymous said...

This is very well done and was needed. I have tried very hard to like and respect Crosby because he is so talented and so much fun to watch, but I'm just done with him. He needs to grow up and take responsiblity for his own actions; he wasn't looking where he was going, and skated into Steckel's path. Sucks he got hurt, but this is on him more than it's on Steckel. And to say, as he did, that Steckel has "got to be the one that tries to avoid me in that
situation" displays a nauseating level of entitlement. Why does Steckel have to avoid him? Steckel wasn't looking at him, he was looking at the play. Crosby "has got to be the one that tries" not to skate in the path of another player - or if he does, act like a grown-up and admit everything is not always the fault of others.

OviWan said...

Anonymous said...

I read that Crosbiteme had his skates extra sharp due to the soft ice, probably causing him to turn quicker than he expected.

This was all Crosbiteme's doing. Period. Suck it up.

Anonymous said...

I agree with how you broke things down but there are two things which are worth noting. One, only Steckel knows whether he knew what he was doing. Second, it was behind the play and Crosby did not have the puck, so all the keep-your-head-up stuff is not applicable. Guys aren't supposed to get head shots so far away from the play.