“The hit by Rome was clearly beyond what is acceptable in terms of how late it was delivered after Horton had released the puck and it caused a significant injury.”
- NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, Mike Murphy
The great majority of those that oppose the 4 game suspension do not argue against the fact the hit was late. Instead, most latch onto the “significant injury” factor. The argument goes something like this, “they are punishing the injury, not the hit. If Nathan Horton had gotten up after the hit, there would not be any suspension.” The premise is based on the conclusion that punishment should be based on “intent”, not “consequence”. Let’s evaluate this theory.
Intent is often difficult to determine. I believe there are two types.
a. A specific intent to injure: This can range from the obvious (screaming “you’re dead, you @#$%^!” in mid-flight with your skate in hand and blade toward Daniel Sedin’s head), to the express (a two-handed cross check to Alexandre Burrow’s face), to the implied (several strides toward Henrik Sedin well after the puck is released and a leaping shoulder to his head). The Vancouver Canucks used in this example are for illustration purposes only.
b. A general intent to hit an opposing player but no intent to injure: This includes late hits, reckless ones and/or those the player should have known was a dangerous hit that could cause injury. Most infractions falls within this category.
Now, how does one gauge specific intent? Pretty difficult. The first two types of specific intent are rare. The third one is unfortunately still in the game. Aaron Rome’s hit could arguably be that implied specific intent or a general intent where “intent to injure” is difficult to ascertain. With Rome’s hit, we do know it was late and that fact is beyond reasonable dispute.
Now, forget hockey for a moment. Come back to life outside the arena.
A drunk driver has a blood alcohol level of .16, in California twice the legal limit. He is weaving, cited, taken to the drunk tank and then released when he is sober. He gets an arraignment date 30 or so days later. What’s his punishment? More likely than not, a standard first time DUI with fines, a license suspension, alcohol classes and so forth. Imagine now, same drunk driver, same weaving, falls asleep at the wheel, car slams into the center divider, flips over it and into on coming traffic. He kills four people. What is the punishment now? What should it be? A standard first time DUI? Same terms as if he had not killed anyone? No. Vehicle manslaughter. State prison time.
How about a man who strikes his wife. He is arrested for domestic violence. His wife is not injured. He gets a punishment appropriate with the crime. Same scenario except the wife’s nose is broken. Same punishment? No. Now, it’s a felony. Same scenario, except now she fell and struck her head and is in a coma. Same punishment? No. Now, it may be manslaughter or possibly attempted murder.
In all facets of life, the punishment should, theoretically, fit the crime and the “crime” is not just the “act” but the consequences of that act. Why would you expect discipline within the NHL to be any different?
If Nathan Horton had gotten up after the hit and was not injured, then of course the punishment would have been different and should have been different. The fact he was seriously injured and therefore the NHL imposed a greater punishment underscores the logical premise that players in this league must understand that when they act outside of the rules, there will be consequences and if another player is injured as a result of that action, the punishment will increase proportionally. How else would you expect there to be a deterrent, which is the NHL’s ultimate goal? If “consequences be damned” was the NHL’s position, then fewer players would hesitate to throw those dangerous hits. Add serious consequences, regardless of whether it is the regular season or playoffs, and all but some players (read, Matt Cooke types) pause before they consider throwing the hit that could end a season or a career. In the end, that is exactly what the NHL wants and the game needs to evolve.