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Detroit Red Wings’ defenseman Brendan Smith’s punishment for his hit on Ben Smith was just about right, according to most involved in hockey. Patrick Kane said Friday morning he was thinking along the lines of 10 games or more but eight, total, between preseason and regular season should help send the right message to him and others.
The league continues to crack down on the issue in hopes of curbing head hits as the regular season approaches. One thing is for sure, anyone intimating Ben Smith has any culpability in what happened Wednesday night isn’t getting the point.
"I thought it was a little extreme to tell you the truth,” Wings’ coach Mike Babcock said of the suspension. “In saying that we are not condoning getting hit in the head with someone's shoulder. I think it's important - they're a work in progress at the league to, figuring this out.
"I think some of the plays are to me no-brainers. Suspensions? I think the [Smith] hit is a little gray. If I'm in Chicago right now I probably see it differently. I'd like to think not. I'd like to think what's right is right, what's wrong is wrong. I also think that we'd better not take the onus off the puck carrier.”
Ben Smith never had his head down as first thought. If he blinked his eyes towards the puck, that’s only natural. And even if he did have his head down, there is plenty of body to aim for besides his head. Getting “blown up” for having your head down is part of the game, but it should happen in the chest, shoulder or other part of a player’s body. In any case this doesn’t apply to Ben Smith, his head was up the whole time.
Hawks’ veterans Sean O’Donnell and Jamal Mayers agree the rule changes after the lockout in 2005 have opened the game up and have made players more vulnerable due to the speed in the game.
But the rash of head hits are about more than just rule changes.
“When I first broke into the league you would hit hard but if a guy was in a vulnerable spot you would ease up on him,” O’Donnell said. “And now it seems like when a guy is in a vulnerable spot, guys eyes light up. I don’t know where this mindset came from. Some of that self-respect for a fellow NHL’er or human being doesn’t seem to be there. I’m not sure why.”
O’Donnell intimated more than once that teams for whom the perpetrators play almost condone the behavior by defending the player as much as they do. He pointed out Pittsburgh as an example of admitting Matt Cooke was in the wrong last year after some questionable hits that led to suspension. He thinks more teams need to do that.
“Other than that, I don’t know what to do about it other than guys have a little more respect for each other,” O’Donnell said.
He didn’t disagree, with so much money at stake, players don’t want to get beat so some desperation occurs.
Defensemen in the Hawks locker room, including O’Donnell, were more sympathetic to Brendan Smith, admitting it’s tough to make a split second decision on a player coming at you full speed. Forwards understand the dilemma but still think there is a choice to be made.
“Anytime you just get a piece of someone it’s not going to be good for either side,” Mayers said. “Clearly we need to get that out of the game and guys need to be responsible for their actions.”
Mayers says if he can’t hit half of a player’s body he’ll go right by him. It’s a thought that should have crossed Brendan Smith’s mind as well as countless others this preseason and over the past few years.