Even for a relatively unphysical player (.55 PIM per game over Gaborik's career; .26 PIM per game over Nielsen's career), not every fast-reaction situation is easy to avoid checking from behind. Maybe more so if the target is a PK master who is in the process of killing your powerplay yet again. Still, regardless of his intent or carelessness, it was a bad, bad hit from behind Marian Gaborik put on Frans Nielsen in last night's 6-2 Isles win, one he could have and should have let up on once he saw a giant NIELSEN 51 as he was driving through his check. Sometimes you luck out on a bad hit and no damage is done. Not so last night.
[Updated with video] After the jump, reactions from Islanders players and pundits to the hit, which ended the night for Nielsen after only 5:47 TOI, yet yielded only a two-minute boarding minor for Gaborik.
(The roughing minor was for the scrum afterward -- you can't pretend "he got four minutes" for one incident. You don't give a double-minor for a hit and pretend half of it is for boarding and half of it is for roughing.)
Jeff Z. Klein of the TImes, describing it succinctly:
It was by far the hardest Gaborik had checked anyone all season, and it was patently illegal. Nielsen crumpled to the ice, and Martinek barreled into Gaborik to exact vengeance.
P.A. Parenteau, on what Nielsen means:
"Definitely, Fransie (Nielsen) is our best player all around. He’s been unbelievable this year and you don’t want to see him go down like that. I think we generated a lot after that hit."
Parenteau again, on what he thought of that hit:
"I thought it was real dirty," Parenteau said. "I’m sure the league is going to look into it. I can’t believe it was only a four minute penalty but I was in the penalty box, I was right there and that was right in the number. Those are the hits we’re trying to get rid of in the game these days. I know it’s a skilled guy, Gaborik, he probably didn’t mean to. I don’t know, it’s not his trademark, but I do know it was a real dangerous hit."
Radek Martinek, uncharacteristically the first to step in after it happened [Newsday - $5 please]:
"I didn't see the hit, but I just saw [Nielsen] down, not moving, and I got scared," Martinek said. "That's why I went over. He's such a nice guy. I'd do anything for him."
Also in Newsday:
"I thought that was a hit from behind," linemate Kyle Okposo said. "The ref said [Nielsen] turned his head. It's their judgment call and I don't know if the league will look at it, but we felt it should've been ."
Jack Capuano in his post-game:
That's for the league to determine. I heard it. It was a hard hit against the wall there. But that's for the league to decide.
"Any time Frans Nielsen goes down and leaves the game with a head injury, it doesn't sit well with us," Zenon Konopka said.
Blake Comeau, in post-game scrum:
"Well the guy's out with a head injury. I don't care who it is -- I mean obviously I don't think Gaborik's out there looking to hurt anyone -- but when you hit a guy in a vulnerable position and hurt his head, maybe it's not a suspension or even a fine, but it's a five-minute major in my mind. But that was the call and we dealt with it."
Andrew Gross of northjersey.com, summing up the above:
Gaborik’s shoulder check sent Nielsen face first into the side boards at 16:29 of the first period, though the Rangers wound up with a power play after Radek Martinek went after him. Gaborik received two minutes for boarding and two for roughing but the consensus in the Islanders’ room was that he should have received a five-minute major for boarding.
It was a "shoulder check" from Gaborik, but of course it was to the numbers, a.k.a. Nielsen's back. That's a no-no, and it deserved five.
What Now? [UPDATE: No suspension or fine]
[UPDATE: Naturally, no further discipline according to Nick Kypreos.]
Unspoken in all this is the NHL's caste system. Does Gaborik get any supplementary discipline? One report last night had the league at least reviewing the hit.
Not to go tinfoil on you, but you know if this hit happens from Trevor Gillies or Matt Martin, they're losing salary after a call from Colie. But for a star like Gaborik, who even Comeau suggests "isn't out there to hurt anybody" and who is in a desperate playoff race? Does he miss any time or get a fine (the NHL's way of saying "you're too important," especially after the refs only called a minor for boarding? We'll see, but I'm not holding my breath.
Which is too bad. Concussions delivered by enforcers are no different than concussions delivered by "not that kind of player"s. If you want to change behavior, you need everyone thinking twice about drilling a guy in the numbers. Everyone is prone to emotional responses at times, even the Selke candidates. The guy who skates through life thinking, "I'm not that kind of player" shouldn't be immune.