On 'finishing the check'

As the annual general managers meetings get under way in Florida there is little doubt that a significant portion of conversation will focus on concussions and the prevention of them. Sure to be hot topics at the GM meetings include rink safety, player equipment, and the effectiveness of Rule 48 in its first year. Although specific ‘changes’ to the way the game may come up in conversation, it’s unlikely that any drastic measures will be taken by the league.

One quick early tidbit of information to come out of the meetings on Monday was a statement from Gary Bettman claiming that only 17% of concussions are the result of illegal hits to the head (via Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press). That leaves 83% of concussions to be accounted for from clean hits, fights, pucks to the head, and various other bumps sustained from a game of hockey. The fight discussion is one for another day, but a quick YouTube browsing of some of the more infamous concussions sustained over the last couple of seasons led us to an interesting conclusion. A number of head injuries sustained in the NHL result from players being hit by an opponent who is simply finishing his check.

So, you gotta at least ask the question, right? Is ‘finishing the check’ necessary to the flow of the game?

Insert rage from curmudgeon set here. We’re not saying that hitting should be removed from the game, but we are saying that the league could look at the act of ‘finishing a check’ and whether or not it is necessary.

Take a look at the Matt Hunwick (not Matt Cooke) hit that essentially wiped out Marc Savard’s 2010-11 season and has once again put his career in jeopardy:

Had Savard been pursuing the puck as opposed to just having shoveled it along the boards, Hunwick probably would have been slapped with an interference penalty on the play. Instead, Hunwick is allowed by NHL rules to rub Savard out along the boards. Savard himself even declared the hit perfectly legal, and under NHL rules – it is.

Victor Hedman’s hit that may or may not have been the one responsible for Sidney Crosby’s concussion is also another instance of a player finishing his check:

Sure, there’s a special place in hockey hell (or is it namby pamby land?) for any softy blogger type that suggests making the game less physical, but how can the concussion epidemic be properly dealt with if we continue to ignore its causes?

The players aren’t getting any smaller and the game certainly isn’t going to slow down. As Pierre LeBrun stated on this past Saturday’s edition of the Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada: hits per game across the league are up 40%.

Should a player that does not have control of the puck continue to be considered a legal target?

Rule 56 in the NHL covers “Interference”, and it’s in place to prevent a player from impeding another player’s path to the puck while it is up for possession. Rule 56 also clearly outlines what can be considered ‘possession of the puck’:

Possession of the Puck: The last player to touch the puck, other than the goalkeeper, shall be considered the player in possession. The player deemed in possession of the puck may be checked legally, provided the check is rendered immediately following his loss of possession.

The NHL has rules in place that, in effect, protect its players from being checked before they have possession of the puck, but a player is fair game to be hit after moving the puck.

Deeming a player without clear possession of the puck an illegal checking target would most certainly decrease the number of hits in the league, but is it a measure that can be taken without compromising the integrity of the NHL’s physical nature? That’s not easy to answer, and I’m not kidding myself here – any approach to altering the way body checks can be delivered will be met with more opposition from hockey people than support – but it’s something that deserves a look if the league is really going to get serious about player safety.

Comments (11)

  1. Oh my god you’re insane how could you suggest ruining the game like this…

    Ha! Now that’s outta the way, great article. It makes sense, given where all the concussions are happening. Maybe it’s something they can fool around with during the next few r&d camps. We need to start the research tho, we can’t be caught 20 years down the road still ignorant of the epidemic.

  2. BUT HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED TEH GAME?????

  3. @Drew Touche! I’m expecting a few more of those.

  4. The idea has merit but I still think there would be a big gray area and exploitation of the rule change. Imagine you were ONLY able to hit a player who is in possession of the puck. You can bet your marbles that players would start unloading the puck as soon as they see a hit coming and thus draw a penalty for “unencessary contact”. I already think players are clearly exploiting the head shot rule… look at Ottawa’s Lessard hit on some plug Florida player last week… He couldn’t have come any more from the front, coasting with arms and feet down but yet gets tossed for a “hit to the head”??? Less and less, it appears, players aren’t being held accountable for their own protection and just skate around with their heads down and into dangerous areas. As ridiculous and dangerous as it sounds, but this sort of behaviour from the victims looks like they are exploiting this rule change.

    Discuss.

  5. I think they whole issue of concussions and injuries would be moot if we just made every NHLer go back to 80′s style conditioning. Having players like Chara smoke 2 packs a day and not hit the gym, would slow the game back down to a nice lazy pace. Added upside; 8-6 games on a nightly bonus. Downside; 80′s style anything.

    ;)

  6. Here’s what I think. People tie “checking” too much with the physical aspect of the game and forget that it affects the rest of the game, and I’m not just worried about removing physicality from the game. Finishing checks is jsut as much about the speed of the game.

    If you stop letting people finish checks, then the hypothetical two people involved (puck carrier and “guy trying to take the puck away from the puck carrier”) start thinking in different ways. The guy trying to knock the guy off the puck runs around worrying about whether or not the guy with the puck is going to get rid of it, so he hesitates. And the guy with the puck knows that the other guy is thinking that, and he holds on to the puck longer and hesitates (he can now afford to). Hesitation will absolutely kill this game.

    But geez, just find examples of teams that don’t finish their checks to see it in action. Did no one see any of the Sens or Flames games earlier this season where both teams rarely finished their checks? They were slooooow games. Even against good fast teams, it was not good hockey. This is no coincidence, because the teams they played against wouldn’t be worried about getting knocked off the puck, because… it just wasn’t a concern with a team who doesn’t finish checks. You know what is coming…. nothing.

    So I guess it’s not the “finishing checks” that keeps the game fast and keeps players honest, but it’s knowing that there is a possibility that you will get checked and what that means in the context of the game (mainly turnovers).

    Also… everything Connor said.

  7. Here’s another example of a guy who writes about sports feeling the need to say something despite having no real context for his own point.

    To get one thing straight, if anythign these “writers” said actually mattered….or if they really knew a damn thing, they’d be in the game, not writing about it. And this Scott Lewis claims he wouldn;t want to work in hockey, then he ought to stay the hell away from it, and stop embarrassing himself with ridiculous crap like this.

    First off, what does “flow of the game” mean? Is the point of hockey to create one continuous play that ends in a scoring chance? That is PART of the game. There are many pieces and styles that need to gel to create a win, and there are a number of ways to do it.

    You finish a check to say “hey, here I am, and I am gonna be here all game every time you touch the puck”, That’s hockey, and it is a major part of the game.

    Why do you think safeties light up receivers who go over the middle? Maybe it’s so that next time the guy will get alligator arms and or mabye he will decide not to run the route into the middle.

    Finishing your check is a fundamental part of pro hockey. It is something you have to do unless you like riding the pine. I imagine Scott Lewis spent a lot of time on the bench,…if he even ever laced up the skates.

    This is a garbage article with no perspective or relevence. All it does is provide the people who haev been in the game more reason to look down on the guys who write about it and have no clue.

  8. When “finishing your check” goes wrong.

    http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=0&id=102914

    Also, did Dane just post his comment because it’s required that someone be “that guy” in a comments section?

    Btw, what is up with Hamhuis and hip checks? Love it!

  9. Thanks Dane, although I’m not sure where you’re getting this idea that I said I wouldn’t want to work in hockey. Love your bench comment – you probably went pro, right?

  10. Being “part of the game” is only so, because we make it part of the game.

    It amazes me how hockey players are so quick to crucify anyone who has an opinion about the game without having actually played it. I’ve played it and continue to play to this day, but I concede that there are some pretty smart folk out there that perhaps have something valuable to add and can see the game from a different perspective.

    All that aside however, this article brings up nothing new that hasn’t been talked about from within professional hockey already. Ken Dryden wrote a lengthy paper on it not too long ago speaking specifically about the impact it was having on the skill level in the game and the increasing potential for injury.
    Finishing the check should be the equivalent of Football’s roughing the passer. You have a small amount of time, where contact is unavoidable but after that it becomes a illegal hit.

    Its interference if you hit a player before he gets the puck, so why is it any different after he gets rid of it.

  11. Dane’s comment regarding football safeties is irrelevant as Rob pointed out

    Dane’s comments about hockey are opinion, and not well informed.
    “boob” at least chose a nickname that reflects honesty in advertising.
    Hockey without the constant checking off the puck is alive and well, and has been since the 70′s at least (that’s as far back as I’ve followed it). And it’s fast – watch a pro team scrimmage to see how fast the game becomes without constant checks.
    The speed of the game does change when you allow an increase in checking interference – it slows down. A lot.
    Two players that collide don’t skate speedily away, nor do they do anything especially exciting such as passing or shooting. In fact, the constant toll of hits is meant to slow opponents down, through cumulative pain and injury.
    Is it fun for fans to watch? Sure, if that’s what the fans are conditioned to watch, and many are.
    Does it sell tickets? Absolutely, and that’s the business of pro hockey.
    But if your favourite team lays out the majority of massive hits in a game, but scores few goals and lets in boatloads, do you really believe you’re watching exciting hockey? Or hockey at all?

    As a player, coach, and referee, I will agree that checking is a fundamental skill, but it is not a required skill. Shooting and passing accurately, skating, being able to play within a system, these are required skills. Checking could disappear from the game and the game would probably be better for it.
    Give me kids that can score, and I can build wins. Give me kids that check, and I better pray the other teams can’t score.

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