Members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, including team captain John Tavares and head coach Sheldon Keefe, criticized a hit on Mitch Marner made by Mikhail Sergachev during Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The play itself occurred in the first period. While in a footrace for a rolling puck near the Lightning zone, Marner was hooked by Tampa defender Victor Hedman, knocking him off balance. As Marner tried to coral the puck, Sergachev skated into the play in an apparent attempt to cut him off from the puck. Instead of blocking Marner’s path, Sergachev delivered a high hit that made contact with the Maple Leafs winger’s head, forcing it to snap back.
“I didn’t like it at all,” Tavares said after the game. “I thought Mitchy was pretty exposed, no chance to really protect himself or see it coming. Didn’t like it at all. Hit him right in the head. We want that stuff out of our game. (Suspension) should be at least talked about.”
Sergachev was assessed a two-minute penalty for an illegal check to the head following the play. Marner, who had two assists in Thursday’s game, wasn’t forced to miss time, playing over 25 minutes.
Marner said Sergachev tapped him on the shin pads and apologized for the hit in the second period, though he elected not to weigh in on whether or not it was a suspension-worthy play, saying he hadn’t seen it again yet to know exactly what happened.
Keefe, however, was slightly more resolute in his assessment, noting that he believed the play at least warranted a closer look by the NHL.
“Watched it a few times,” Keefe said. “I’m sure the league is going to look at it.”
Rule 48 of the NHL rulebook, which defines what constitutes an illegal check to the head, states that in order for a hit to be impermissible, a player’s head must be the main point of contact of the hit, and there had to be a way for the player who delivered the hit to avoid making the contact.
When determining if a player could have avoiding making the contact, several factors are considered:
(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.
(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.
(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.
The NHL has not said at this time if it will punish Sergachev for the play.