Down Goes Brown Weekend Wrap: Should the NHL ban blindside hits?

Ron MacLean and Don Cherry discuss what went down between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks that lead to 171 penalty minutes being handed out.

(Every Monday, Sean McIndoe looks back at weekend play in the NHL and the league’s biggest storylines. You can follow him on Twitter.)

Opening faceoff: Double-digit debacle
The most memorable game of the weekend came on Friday, when the Blue Jackets embarrassed the Canadiens in a stunning 10-0 win. That’s a final score that doesn’t even seem possible; if you didn’t watch the game live and just saw the score scroll by on a screen somewhere, you probably assumed it was a typo.

But it was real, as much as Habs fans may wish that it was all a mistake. The Montreal Canadiens, who came into the game with a 9-0-1 record and having given up just 13 goals on the entire season, went into Columbus and lost by double digits. And as you might expect, the rest of the hockey world had some fun at their expense.

For our purposes, the question becomes whether that one terrible loss should be enough to bump Montreal out of their number one spot in the power rankings. The short answer is no, as you’ll see below. And that’s especially true when the loss didn’t involve Carey Price. We already know that the Habs aren’t the same team without their franchise goaltender – last season was one long case study on that particular topic – so we won’t overreact to a game that didn’t even involve him.

But our rankings are meant to be as much about the long-term as right now, meaning they could be read as a projection of which teams are most likely to win a Stanley Cup. If the Habs are still on top, it raises the question: Do Stanley Cup champions ever get crushed like Montreal did on Friday?

Yes they do, as it turns out, although it’s rare. There have been 18 times in hockey history that a team lost a game by seven goals or more and still went on to win the Cup that season. Six of those predate the Original Six era (three involving the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas). It’s happened just nine times since the start of the expansion era in 1967.

You have to go back over a decade to find the most recent example. The 2005-06 Hurricanes dropped a 9-0 loss to the Thrashers early in the season. The 1995-96 Avalanche lost 7-0 to the pre-rivalry Red Wings in March of that season, and the 1991-92 Penguins dropped an 8-0 decision to the Capitals just a few weeks into the schedule. And the mighty Islanders dynasty did it twice, losing 8-0 to the Blackhawks in 1979 and 11-4 to the Flames in 1981.

Even better news for the Habs: a 10-0 final wouldn’t even be the biggest blowout ever suffered by an eventual champ. The worst losses by a Cup winner were a pair of 11-0 decisions, one by the 1963-64 Maple Leafs at the hands of the Bruins, and one by the 1983-84 Oilers at the hands of the Whalers. Amazingly, that Oilers loss came just one week after a 9-2 loss to the Capitals.

So relax, Montreal fans. You really can get skunked as badly as the Canadiens did on Friday and still recover to win it all. (Just as long as Price stays healthy.)

Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. Washington Capitals (8-2-1, +10 true goals differential*) – The defending Presidents’ Trophy champs have now won five straight, although all five of those have come against teams that have lost more than they’ve won.

4. Chicago Blackhawks (9-3-1, +14) – After a shaky start, they’re sitting on top of the Western Conference standings. And maybe more importantly, they’ve made progress on the penalty kill, allowing just one power play goal in their past five games.

3. New York Rangers (10-3-0, +26) – Seeing them near the top of the Metro standings isn’t exactly a shock, but seeing them do it with offence might be. They’ve now scored at least five goals in five straight.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (8-2-2, +5) – They’re 5-0-1 since the return of Sidney Crosby, including a 5-0 win over the Sharks in Saturday’s rematch of the Stanley Cup final.

1. Montreal Canadiens (10-1-1, +12) – But seriously, let’s go back and watch those highlights one more time.

(*Goals scored minus goals allowed, without counting shootouts like the NHL does for some reason.)

With Montreal holding on to the top spot and three Metro teams sneaking on to the list, we’ll pause here so everyone can accuse the top five of holding an eastern bias.

There certainly are some Western Conference teams you could make a case for. We covered the Oilers’ situation last week, and despite two losses this week, a lot of that would still apply. The Blues have looked good for most of the year, despite a negative goals differential. And even with the percentages catching up to them, the Wild are still in the conversation.

But it’s awfully hard to knock any of those Metro teams out of the top five. If the division isn’t the NHL’s best, it’s at least its most top heavy. And there’s still a good young Flyers team to keep an eye on. Heck, even the Blue Jackets have climbed into the league’s top five for goals differential after Friday night’s blowout.

It’s worth noting that the Penguins, Capitals and Rangers haven’t had to play each other much this year, with only two matchups between the trio all season. That will change as the month goes on, with a few games on the schedule including a home-and-home between the Penguins and Rangers. It will be hard for all three teams to hold down top five spots once their schedules start overlapping. But in the meantime, I don’t know which one you can really bump off the list.

Sorry, western friends. You’ve been the dominant conference for most of the last two decades, you can let the east hog the spotlight for at least a few weeks.

Road to the lottery
The five teams that look like they’re headed towards watching Nolan Patrick highlights and clicking refresh on draft lottery simulations.

5. Nashville Predators (3-5-3 -5) – An impressive win over the Avalanche made it look like they may be back on track, but they’ve followed that with two more losses to teams ahead of them on this list. They remain the league’s most confusing team.

4. Colorado Avalanche (5-6-0, -11) – Their lousy possession game is taking its toll; they’ve lost three of their last four, and been outscored 14-3 in those games.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (3-5-3, -10) – The Cam Ward extension remains one of the offseason’s most puzzling decisions.

2. Arizona Coyotes (4-7-0, -12) – Nobody show this ranking to Max Domi, please.

1. Vancouver Canucks (4-7-1, -14) – Make it eight straight losses to go with the league’s worst score-adjusted possession and goals differential. No matter how you look at it, they’re struggling.

Well, the good news is that two teams that have spent time on our bottom five list this year had everyone talking after facing each other on Saturday night.

The bad news is that nobody seems to care about the result of that game, a 6-3 win by the Maple Leafs over the Canucks. Instead, everyone is up in arms over a nasty third period that featured two blindside hits, three instigator penalties, 157 penalty minutes and two ejected goaltenders.

What that period won’t feature is any supplementary discipline from the league. The Department of Player Safety has passed on taking any further action against Morgan Rielly’s hit on Jannik Hansen or Alexandre Burrows’ spear against Rielly, neither of which were penalized during the game. And far more controversially, they’ve also closed the book on Nazem Kadri’s blindside hit on Daniel Sedin.

On first viewing, it’s a hit that seems to demand further punishment. Kadri targets a player who’s in the process of shooting and can’t defend himself. Sedin’s helmet flies off and his head hits the ice hard; it was surprising to see him return to the game, apparently having avoided what initially looked like a serious injury. Many fans saw the play and immediately assumed Kadri would be facing a lengthy suspension for delivering a dangerous hit from the blindside.

But that’s not how the rulebook works. Blindside hits aren’t illegal in the NHL unless they also involve some other infraction, such as a player leaving his feet. Some saw that on the Kadri hit, but most of the debate was over whether Sedin’s head was the main point of contact.

Some angles appeared to show that Kadri did indeed deliver the hit to Sedin’s head, while others made it look like he got him shoulder-to-shoulder. The DOPS reviewed the hit, and landed on the latter interpretation.

And so we have our first major supplemental discipline controversy of the season, and we all know how this works by now. Everyone stakes out a strong opinion of the hit, finds a fuzzy screengrab to support that view, and then loudly declares that their interpretation is so blindingly obvious that only an idiot wouldn’t agree. Don’t forget to mix in an occasional conspiracy theory – it was Brendan Shanahan in the conservatory with a candlestick – to keep things interesting.

Meanwhile, you could probably make a good case that the league should just outlaw blindside hits in general, and some GMs have reportedly lobbied for exactly that. In a league where we’re told that player safety is increasingly important, maybe we need to find a way to keep players like Sedin from ever taking hits like that, period. But that would be a change for the league’s rules committee to put in place over the summer, not for the DOPS to unilaterally make on their own midway through a season.

So now what? The two teams will face each other again on December 3, as you’ve no doubt been ominously reminded a dozen times by now. That has everyone predicting payback, especially after Erik Gudbranson’s ill-advised post-game comments. That could be the case, but don’t be surprised if the league makes it crystal clear to both teams that anybody who even looks at anyone sideways can expect to have the book thrown at them by the DOPS.

And no doubt, we’ll all agree with their decision.

Quick shifts: Ten more notable moments from around the league
• At least somebody was having fun in Toronto during that third period meltdown.

• Another questionable hit came in Saturday’s Oilers/Islanders game, as Dennis Seidenberg went knee-to-knee with Jesse Puljujarvi. The Oilers’ rookie did not dress for yesterday’s win in Detroit, and is considered day-to-day.

• Sidney Crosby: Still pretty good.

• We had another 1-0 game over the weekend, this one a Colorado win over the Wild. The game also featured Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog mixing it up with Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk.

• New Jersey’s Mike Cammalleri had a natural hat trick in yesterday’s win over the Hurricanes, the first for the team in nine years.

• Some disappointing news for Ottawa hockey fans, as the proposed Parliament Hill outdoor game is apparently not going to happen. The team and city will now consider other locations, including the downtown football stadium.

• Save of the weekend: Scott Darling’s overtime robbery in last night’s win over the Stars.

• Things have gone from bad to worse for the struggling Islanders, who’ll now be without Travis Hamonic for the next four-to-six weeks. He suffered an upper-body injury after blocking a shot against Edmonton on Saturday.

• Winnipeg rookie Patrik Laine scored his eighth of the season in last night’s loss to the Rangers, and is now tied for the league lead.

• Finally, some terrible news out of Colorado, where former NHLer Mark Svatos has died at the age of 34. At this point, a cause of death has not yet been made public.

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