The NHL is cracking down on hits to the head and Sabres forward John Scott will find out first-hand how severely he will be penalized for a hit he put on Boston’s Loui Eriksson on Oct. 23.
Scott faces a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety in New York City on Thursday. The in-person hearing allows for the League to suspend Scott for at least five games. He's already sat out three games.
Since the start of the season, eight players, excluding Scott, have been suspended by the League for a combined 35 games. Four of those suspensions are a result of illegal hits to the head and total 18 games, including a 10-game suspension to the Sabres’ Patrick Kaleta for hitting Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on Oct. 10.
Kaleta has served nine games of the suspension so far. He will miss his 10 th game on Thursday when the Sabres take on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m.
“The emphasis right now across all athletics is just the concussion part of things, so that’s been a major focus – any contact to the head, and that comes from the NFL,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after practice at First Niagara Center. “The NHL now has put a huge focus on that. It’s kind of been the major topic right now so when it is an emphasis, you’ll see a lot of those calls. They’re trying to get rid of those and also, obviously, the hits from behind along the boards.”
Rolston said that a lot of new systems that have been implemented by teams have led to the increased number of hits that players could be suspended or fined for making. Youth hockey programs are beginning to implement additional penalties for hits to the head and Rolston sees the NHL eventually following suit.
“I think it’ll happen more at our level, too is things get stricter, he said. “And we’ve already see how many guys suspended early on in this season, and the number of games players are missing. Same with the visor now – all the players have to have visors that are coming into the League, so that’s going to change things.
“You hope that over the course of whatever it is, five, 10 years that you’re going to see some of those changes really affect the game in a positive way.”
He also said rule changes made after the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season brought attention to obstruction, but those penalties aren’t called as much anymore.
“Probably right after the last lockout, the emphasis was a lot on what obstruction, hooking, holding and now that’s back in the game,” he said. “You watch today’s game, it’s completely different from that emphasis coming out of that lockout. So it really becomes what is emphasized and then at that point you see a lot of calls from that emphasis.”
The Sabres are currently fourth in the League in hits with 372. Forward Cody McCormick plays a physical game and likes to see that some of the team’s younger players aren’t afraid to throw the body around either.
“For me, every shift I want to play physical, I want to finish all my hits and just have the other team looking over their shoulder, I guess,” he said. “You see it with the young guys, they’re finishing their hits. They don’t care who they’re playing. They’re finishing their hits on their best players and that’s the best things for us.”
One of those young players, 18-year-old rookie Nikita Zadorov, has been a physical presence for the Sabres. He has 17 hits in five games. Rolston cited some of Zadorov’s play as an example of how players, particularly defensemen, can still make open ice hits without crossing the line.
“I think in Florida there, Zadorov had a couple that were out in the middle of the ice, taking the rush. Again, I think a lot of the system stuff has caused a lot of situations like that,” he said.
26 Matt Moulson – 19 Cody Hodgson – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Steve Ott – 82 Marcus Foligno – 23 Ville Leino
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 65 Brian Flynn
22 Johan Larsson – 8 Cody McCormick – 21 Drew Stafford
78 Corey Tropp – 36 Patrick Kaleta
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 3 Mark Pysyk
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
4 Jamie McBain – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
61 Nikita Zadorov – 32 John Scott .
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth
Moulson – Hodgson – Ennis
McBain – Ehrhoff
Leino/Grigorenko – Ott – Foligno
Myers – Pysyk/Ristolainen