Scary scene in Calgary last night during a pre-season tilt between the Flames and New York Islanders. Rugged Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf absolutely crushed Isles winger Kyle Okposo (photo right) with a thunderous open-ice hit, and the 21 year-old was down on the ice for several minutes before being wheeled off on a stretcher.
According to the team, Okposo suffered a mild concussion, and there is no long-term prognosis on the injury just yet.
Debate is already raging as to whether or not it was a clean hit. Needless to say, you can check out the blogosphere and see that Isles backers thought it was a dirty hit by Phaneuf, while Flames fans see it is a perfectly legal blow.
I have watched the clip over and over again this morning, and, to me, the most troubling aspect of it is that Phaneuf seems to leave his feet when he delivers the check on Okposo. With that being the case, it is not a clean hit, and thus Phaneuf should have been penalized---he was not, by the way---and should be suspended.
The other part of the hit that is very difficult to determine from the camera angles I have seen is whether or not Phaneuf leads with his elbow. It appears to me that he is leading with his shoulder, but the elbow might fly out right before contact with Okposo's head. Again, that's a penalty and a suspendable offense if the elbow is thrown towards the head. I wish I could say definitively whether or not that is the case. Just can't tell for sure from the videos I have seen.
A couple of other things come into play here, as well. One is that Okposo is hunched over a bit reaching for the puck, so his head is lower than it normally would be if he was standing up straight. Two, Phaneuf is five inches taller than Okposo, so the combination of him being taller and Okposo being hunched over clearly puts the youngster's head in harm's way, even on a clean open-ice check
As for intent, it's impossible to get inside someone else's head and know for sure what their plan of action is/was. Phaneuf, who has a history of bone-rattling hits, as well as some borderline ones, is coming off a poor year last season. He is playing for a new coach in Brent Sutter, trying to impress the new boss and reestablish himself as one of the better defenseman in the league.
It is very likely that Phaneuf saw the opportunity to make a huge splash and first impression on Sutter, and perhaps went over the line with his aggressiveness.
Bottom line from me is that I think a game or two suspension is worthy. To me, he is leaving his feet on the hit. Otherwsie, I would not have had any problems with it, other than the very unfortunate fact that Okposo got hurt on the play.
In reading Katie Strang's story in Newsday today
it seems that the Islanders players were more upset with the fact that Phaneuf did not want to fight after the hit as opposed to the hit itself, though goaltender Martin Biron did note that he---like I---thought the Calgary defenseman left his feet to deliever the check.
Not a shocker that Phaneuf said the check was a clean one. "I thought it was a clean hit. I stepped up and used my shoulder." Sutter backed his player 100 percent after the game, as well.
Flames and Isles hook up again Saturday night in Saskatoon, though I can't imagine that Phaneuf will be in the lineup for Calgary. From a common-sense point of view, Sutter needs to scratch Phaneuf in this otherwise meaningless pre-season game so as not to inflame an already volatile situation between the two clubs.
Chris Botta over at Fanhouse
disagrees with my take. He argues that Phaneuf, whether the hit was legal or not, should "face the music" as part of hockey's code, especially because he refused to drop the gloves on Thursday night.
I just don't see the sense in knowingly taking to the ice with the knowledge that someone on the other bench is seeking retribution---and could be hell-bent on trying to make a name for themselves with the Islanders in the process---in an exhibition game.
And really, do we need a full-fledged brawl, another black eye for this league? I say, No.
But I do believe that Colin Campbell has to serve justice on Phaneuf for leaving his feet when he delivered the damaging blow to Okposo.