NHL Parameters for Violent Acts: Brad Marchand’s Fight vs. Tom Wilson’s Hit

Posted October 11, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

What’s the basis for the NHL to punish a player who is doing his job as a defenseman in contrast with a violent instigator-aggressor with thirst for vengeance because his ego has been hurt?

In the last two weeks we saw the NHL Player Safety Department dish out a 20-game suspension for Tom Wilson’s “Illegal check to the head” of Oskar Sundqvist, and no disciplinary action for Brad Marchand after he instigated a fight against Lars Eller for celebrating too much.

What are the parameters for the NHL to regulate violent acts and the agenda behind it?  Why does the NHL penalize hits that are part of the collateral damage of a physical contact game and don’t penalize intentional fights that are result of a bruised ego?

Gary Bettman, in a Sport Illustrated interview in June 2016 said:

“Fighting has been part of the game. It does act as thermostat in the game. This is a physical game and fighting isn’t the only issue and, in fact, fighting may help prevent other injuries.”

Severity of Tom Wilson’s check to Sundqvist

Why such severe discipline for Wilson? Checks to the head are prohibited by the NHL Player Safety Department in an effort to have a safer and healthier environment within the league. Ice hockey players have a long history of head injuries and concussion of which many resulted in permanent physical problems or even death. In the 2010-2011 NHL season, any form of illegal check to the head “lateral or blind side hit to an opponent, where the player’s head is targeted as the principal point of contact” became prohibited and punishable. After the enforcement of this rule, there has been a sizable decrease in concussions.



In a study of 1,307 high-level NHL players on the 2009-2012 seasons performed by the St. Mike’s Canadian Brain Injury and Violence Research Team, it was estimated that more than $40-million a year was lost to concussions. In this research, doctors found that 323 concussions happened in the three seasons that they examined and as consequence the “costs” to the insurance companies was $21.6-million and $44.9 for the teams.

On Tom Wilson’s defense, the Rule 48 of the NHL 2018 rulebook says:

“A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be 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.”

We could argue for hours with NHL Player Safety, but we already know from the decision that they believe “this hit is entirely in Wilson’s control and with time to take a better angle of approach.”  Hopefully Wilson’s appeal will success.

Brad Marchand fight with Lars Eller

How come fights are allowed and less drastically punish when its an intended act of violence? Why the NHL didn’t punish more severely Marchand for picking on a fight with Eller?

Answer …It’s nature and “The Code”

Fights and violent acts have been part of the hockey culture for over a century. Fighting is seen by players, coaches and even the Commissioner as a ventilation mechanism that prevents worse possible injuries. The Code is the unwritten moral core of rules that govern the fighting between players of ice hockey. Marchand said, “His celebration was unnecessary,” and then explained the reason for his attack. “He took an angle in front of the bench and celebrated in a 7-0 game, so I just let him know.” The disciplinary result for his attack was only to leave the game with an instigator minor, a fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy defended Marchand’s action by saying: “He’s a proud guy, I think Eller celebrated a little on a 7-0 goal. It’s his prerogative, and Marchy let him know that’s not acceptable.” The rest of the team is not happy withMarchand attack and the lack of disciplinary action from the NHL Office of Player Safety.

In the 2018-2019 NHL Rule book, the Rule 46 is dedicated to fighting. This rule makes fighting technically a violation but it also gives referees the discretion of penalizing the players:

“The Referees are provided very wide latitude in the penalties with which they may impose under this rule. This is done intentionally to enable them to differentiate between the obvious degrees of responsibility of the participants either for starting the fighting or persisting in continuing the fighting. The discretion provided should be exercised realistically.”

On Saturday, when asked about the fight Eller said: “It was a little surprising. I wasn’t really preparing for it, but you also know what kind of character Marchand is. So you can only be a little surprised. I made a gesture toward our bench. Obviously, they didn’t like that. I think they were just sour from losing. If you’re looking for something to get mad about, you can always find something. … That’s how they took it. They were just sour from losing.”

Why they don’t sanction fights more severely”

Answer: Once again…

Money…fighting attracts more viewers, creates team-unity for the fans, and hate for the opponent team.