Last Saturday night in a game between Colorado and Vancouver, the Canucks trailed by two with less than three minutes to go in the third period. Pressing with the goalie pulled, they scored to pull to within one and eventually tied it to send the game to overtime.
But the comeback wasn’t without controversy.
The goal that pulled Vancouver to within one came as Colorado’s Matt Calvert lay on the ice in distress. A shot from Elias Pettersson hit Calvert in the head, leaving him bleeding, but because the Avs didn’t get control of the puck and the Canucks were pressuring the offensive zone, the whistle wasn’t blown.
This didn’t sit well with Nathan MacKinnon.
“I don’t think it’s right,” MacKinnon said. “Even Pettersson was looking at Calvy and you could tell he was wondering if he was OK, which was very classy by him. It’s not the Canucks’ fault. It’s not the refs’ fault. It’s just a league rule. The refs, they wanted to blow it. It’s just silly they can’t.
“The guy is lying there, bleeding out the side of his head. And it’s Matt Calvert; he’s such a tough guy, he’s not looking for a whistle and faking it. If it’s a puck off the foot, let him lay there. A broken foot, it’s serious, but he’ll be fine. But a guy’s bleeding out of his ear? It’s pretty dangerous.
“When you see someone’s head get involved, I think you just have to make a judgement call. It’s common sense. I just can’t see any other sport letting that happen – a guy laying there bleeding.”
In the 2019-20 NHL Rulebook, this play is covered under Rule 8.1 as:
“When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck. If the player’s team is in control of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position. In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the Referee and/or Linesman may stop the play immediately.”
So over the past week, we surveyed some NHL players for their thoughts on this play, if the whistle should be blown, if the rule should be changed, and how much they’d be worried about gamesmanship becoming an unintended consequence if it was.
In the Vancouver-Colorado game last weekend, did you think the whistle should have been blown when Matt Calvert was down in the defensive zone, even though his team didn’t get control of the puck?
Cam Talbot, Calgary Flames:“Yes.” (Why?) “Imminent danger to the player, first of all. And I don’t think that the puck was close enough to the net to indicate a scoring chance.
I think because it was still at the point there’s no scoring chance from there, blow it dead – the guy is bleeding from his head.
If the puck was net-front I understand maybe letting one more play go, but the puck is still at the blue line and the guy is bleeding from his head. That’s got to be blown dead.”
Nikita Zadorov, Colorado Avalanche, who is wearing a cage after jaw surgery following a similar incident to Calvert’s a week earlier: “It was the same thing with me. I was on the ground. My teeth are on the inside, I’m bleeding like hell and I’m looking and we’re getting rinsed 5-on-3. I’m like, ‘I’ve got to go back (to the play).’ I cleared the puck and went to the bench.
I think that rule needs to be changed. Blow the whistle. I understand they have to see a serious injury, but it’s a head contact – we do have families at home to take care of. Calvy is not the guy who would fake it. He tried to get up but couldn’t.”
Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators:“I’m actually very close friends with Matt Calvert. The way hockey players carry themselves, they take a lot of pride in playing the game hard and playing through pain. But when you see a guy down like that, especially a hard-nosed player like Matt Calvert, you know he’s in trouble. You know he needs assistance as fast as possible.
As guys, we’ve been talking about this, and we all feel the right thing to do is stop the play. You don’t know the nature of the injury, either. It could be his neck, could be his eye. He needs attention really quick and it just seems like not the right thing to do to let the play go on and see how he is later.
We had a similar situation a few games before where a puck hits (Nikita) Zadorov, the defenceman for the Avalanche, on the chin and he dropped down. We were on the power play and we continued to play and it didn’t feel right. It felt like if we scored, it would have been unfair to the other team. It would have been a guilty feeling.”
Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators:“I think anyone hit above the shoulders, play should be blown immediately regardless of time or place. Taking a puck in the neck and having a collapsed trachea, that’s probably the biggest scare of all. Most of the guys wear shields and we have helmets and sometimes it’s not as bad as it seems. But anything above the shoulders should be whistled.
It happened to us where Dante Fabbro got hit in the face in San Jose and, same thing, they let play go on. Anytime a referee gets hit and goes down, it’s whistled immediately. That’s the conversation I had with the refs (in San Jose). I thought it was kind of an unwritten rule that anything above the shoulders is dangerous and blown immediately.”
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: “If Colorado didn’t have the puck, maybe it’s just best to blow it down. If the Canucks had it happen to one of their players, they’d want it blown down, too. Refs and linesmen are in a tough position; the game is fast. But for the most part, you want to protect the players.”
Andrew Cogliano, Dallas Stars: “I think so. There’s a human element here. When you see a player get hit in the face with a puck, hit in the head with a puck, that could be very serious. If it takes 30 seconds for his team to get the puck, that could be 30 seconds of really valuable time if something is seriously wrong. If you were walking down the street and saw someone on the ground, holding their head and bleeding, you’d stop and help, right? I think you’ve got to stop the play.”
Kris Russell, Edmonton Oilers: “Yes. If it’s a puck to the head and there’s blood coming out… I thought the whistle should have been blown because of the severity of it.
“I understand if someone gets hit in the foot and is having trouble getting up. That’s different. If you start getting to the face and the head, the trainers should be able to go out and get to the guy.”
Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers: “I think you should blow the whistle but I understand that they don’t know the (severity) of the injury.
“The refs are in a tough position. They have to make calls, and they’re going to get (in trouble) if they make the wrong ones.”
If the rule were changed to better protect an injured player would you be concerned gamesmanship becomes an unintended consequence where someone can try and get a D-zone whistle when a team’s in trouble?
Talbot: “I mean that’s the fine line. I don’t know, that’s tough to say. I don’t think that we have a problem with theatrics compared to some other sports. But gamesmanship may come into play at some point when you’re up a goal and it’s 6-on-5 and maybe that happens when the play gets to a dangerous spot, stay down.
But with that play, how scary it looked – the refs just have to use discretion at that point.”
Zadorov: “I don’t think there’s a place in our sport. I think they’re gonna get chirped from teammates and rest of the league. It’s not a wussy sport. It’s a men’s sport. Not like soccer where people are going to roll on the field and fake injury. I think it’s clearly you’re getting the puck in the head.”
Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames: “That’s the question. I think it’s a tough call. If a guy got a shot in the face and it looks bad you should blow the whistle. If it’s a soft kind of thing like a shot in the leg you can leave it.”
Johansen: “That’s the thing, you just hope for the accountability of the league and the players and guys don’t do that. If there is a situation (where someone fakes an injury), it will be frustrating at the moment, but you hope the league takes charge of it after the game. I think you have to trust and respect the players in playing the right way and being honest.”
Ellis: “It will happen. One-hundred per cent it will happen, like diving. A puck might graze a shoulder and a player might sell it as an injury to his face because he wants a whistle. But the pros outweigh the cons. The potential severity of an injury outweighs the odd chance (of someone faking injury). But you can go to a video review and whether it’s a fine or something else, come up with a way of deterring that.”
Benn: “You never know, it definitely could happen. Maybe that’s why they don’t blow it down. But I think that’s up to the refs.”
Cogliano: “I think (officials) should be given discretion on pucks to the face and head. When you see a guy go down because he got hit in the face with the puck, no matter whether he’s hurt or not, I still think you should blow the whistle. If you get hit on the ankle, it is what it is and I like the way the rule is now. But when you see a guy take a puck to the face and he’s down there bleeding, that’s a tough look for (the league).”
Russell: “I’m assuming someone would try and do it. It’s one thing if you see a guy get hit in the shin pads, and he’s laying down and wants a whistle. It’s unfortunate that guys would think that way, but in an incident like with Calvert, that overrides it.”
With files from Iain MacIntyre, Mark Spector and Eric Francis