NHL should consider in-game replays on hits to the head

A quick replay would have shown Backes' hit on Huskins was perfectly legal. (Johnmaxmena2/Wikimedia Commons)

A quick replay would have shown Backes’ hit on Huskins was perfectly legal. (Johnmaxmena2/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Tim Kolupanowich


At the very serious risk of suggesting the NHL slow its game down to the point it makes baseball look thrilling, the league should consider allowing referees take a look at a replay before ejecting a player for a hit to the head. With linesmen holding up faceoffs for every little infraction and a discussion to begin about issuing a coach’s challenge, there are already enough stoppages in game, but this could be a necessary one.

There have been two ejections for phantom hits to the head already this season, one on St. Louis Blues captain David Backes for his check on Kent Huskins of the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose’s Andrew Desjardins was tossed for (cleanly) taking out Chicago’s Jamal Mayers. Both players were given match penalties which were rescinded by the league after their games proving their innocence  In Backes’ case, the penalty had a direct impact on the game since the Red Wings were given a five minute power play used to score the game-winner. Desjardins’ penalty could have been more severe had Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith not stepped in to fight Desjardins and received a plethora of penalties himself, including instigating a fight while wearing a visor.

It’s the job of the on-ice officials to call the game in such a way they do not have a direct impact on the final outcome, so shouldn’t they be absolutely sure of their call before making an ejection?

It’s not a replay that would have to be used often, only when the referees feel a player should be tossed from the game. It took the announcers and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock just seconds to see there was no contact between Backes’ shoulder and Huskins’ head; the ensuing whiplash purely a factor of the strength of the check. And in Desjardins’ case, all four officials collaborated for well over a minute trying to figure out what each one saw when it would have taken just a few seconds to check out a replay to see it was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit as Mayers turned back to receive a pass.

The Sharks should have gotten a lengthy power play out of the deal. At most Desjardins should have received two minutes for charging as his right skate did appear to come off the ice slightly just a split-second before impact, but Keith’s instigator penalties and misconduct should have far outweighed that. Of all the complaints about the NHL, a big one coming from this corner is the amount of fights stemming from perfectly legal hits. Checking is a part of the game and a player shouldn’t have to fight after doing so legally and cleanly. It doesn’t matter if  the player receiving the check is a superstar or fourth-line grinder, they all step on the ice knowing a big hit is coming their way sooner or later. But that’s a discussion for another day.

All things considering, it’s good to see the NHL is taking headshots seriously even if it means a bad call every so often and attempting to phase the ugly behavior that has pockmarked the league in recent years out of the game. If ejections, fines and suspensions come more frequently and severely to those who to break the rules, it will hopefully deter that kind of behavior in the future.

We posed this question on Twitter yesterday and Level V hockey referee John Moulton agreed the idea has its merit. As he told us:

in principle, any referee having an opportunity to see the other angles would easily conclude no penalty (however) old school NHL people are very hesitant to use instant replay on judgment/penalty infractions….takes the human part out of game

That human element has always been there and bad calls have decided big moments before. There’s also the question of if they start using replays on ejection calls, when do they stop? It likely wouldn’t be long before every call is questions by someone who suggests using instant replay and they just can’t view every infraction upstairs. But for these two cases, it certainly is worth considering.


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