Why NHL won’t punish Neil

The Senators have put the Rangers on the ropes in their playoff series, and New York’s situation is even more precarious since they will be without their third line centre, Brian Boyle, who was concussed in Game 5.  Boyle has arguably been the most important player for the Blueshirts but an unpenalized hit by Ottawa’s Chris Neil knocked him woozy and he didn’t finish the game.

The decision by the NHL to not conduct a hearing or suspend Neil is almost certain to be widely condemned by Rangers fans and others who have expressed outrage against the atmosphere surrounding this year’s playoffs.

But while Rangers coach John Tortorella drew comparisons between Neil’s hit to that of Raffi Torres, which earned a 25-game ban, the real, most legitimate comparison is with the hit by the Canadiens Max Pacioretty on Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang,  also a hit delivered when the victim was in the act of shooting.

And in his video explanation that Brendan Shanahan provided when he suspended Pacioretty, we can find the key to why Neil is not being punished.

First, here’s the hit on Boyle from the CBC telecast:

Here’s how it looked on NBC Sports Network with another replay angle:

This play is very similar to the one from last November at the Bell Centre, when Pacioretty leveled Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang just after Letang followed through after a shot. If you recall, Letang’s nose was broken, he left the game briefly then came back and scored the game winner. He was concussed, however, and missed a total of 24 games. Pacioretty was not penalized but was suspended by Shanahan for three games for the hit.

Habs fans may remember Pacioretty expressing surprise that he was suspended, believing he did nothing wrong, that he had always been told the type of hit he made on Letang was the right play and a legal one.

Here’s the Pacioretty hit and the explanation by Shanahan about why he was suspending Max, and it is one of the more detailed explanations Shanahan provided this past season:

The key to Pacioretty’s suspension — and the key to why Neil was not suspended — can be found in Rule 48 and in Shanahan’s words: “When cutting through the middle on a play like this, all players  accept and understand the danger and expectation that a full bodycheck may be looming. Letang makes the decision to sacrifice his body and must accept the possibility of taking the hit to make the play. However, what no player should expect is that his head will be picked and made the principal point of contact on such a hit.”

Shanahan goes on to say that his Department of Player Safety has to ask on a play like this whether the shooter moves his head in such a so as to put himself in a vulnerable position; if so, the onus is removed from the checker and placed on the puck carrier. The video spotlights Letang’s head and shows its position doens’t appreciably change and that put the onus on Pacioretty to avoid making the head the principal point of contact.

“While we agree with Paccioretty’s assertion that Letang’s body position makes it difficult to avoid the head,” Shanahan continued,  “it is still his responsibility to make principal contact through the core of Letang’s body.” The video then shows how Pacioretty shifted his weight to make contact with Letang’s head. He uses the word “reckless” in describing the hit, meaning he did not believe Pacioretty intended to make head contact.

That didn’t change the result, however. The bottom line is that Pacioretty made very little, if any, contact with Letang other than to his head area.

Going back to look at Neil’s hit, the two replay angles at the top, while not as truly definitive as the video Pacioretty hit, they don’t really show that Boyle’s head was the principle point of contact as much as it was a full body hit. The head was contacted, but was not “picked” or made the principal point of contact.

Now, the NHL also had additional angles of the hit from the Rangers home telecast on the MSG Network that helped them make the decision — and you can see them here, starting at 1:20 of the video. These are more definitive with regard to how much contact Neil makes with the rest of Boyle. He certainly hits Boyle’s head, but he also hits through “the core” of Boyle’s body. That’s what distinguished it from Max’s hit and was most likely the determining factor in letting Neil off.

Of course, Pacioretty returned from his suspension and went on to have a breakout season for the Canadiens as the club’s top scorer, coming back after being victimized last year by Zdeno Chara in one of the most notorious incidents of the 2010-11 campaign. Even though he’s not part of the playoffs, the decision to suspend him provides an explanation to a postseason incident that will certainly be talked about for a while.


  1. weightman25 says:

    The 2 hits are actually not very comparable considering max comes from letangs backside where as Neil comes from the front side of Boyle. IMO if you eliminate that Neil hit you basically eliminate open ice hitting

  2. DorvalTony says:

    Boyle also crashed the net and made heavy contact with the goal post. There’s no way to determine if *that* or the Neil hit caused the concussion.


  3. HabinBurlington says:

    I think the LA St.Louis series will be an excellent one.

    For some reason I think Philly LA finale.

  4. Cal says:

    Well, with this weekend’s festivities, my “Pick all the way to the Cup Winner” pool looks very bleak. Like the weather outside today.

  5. JayK-47 says:

    The poor, poor Penguins. I’d trade them Pleks for Malkin straight up if Pleks wasn’t so important for the Habs PK unit. Maybe if the Pens threw in a draft pick, but i dunno….

  6. commandant says:

    I really doubt Babcock becomes available. It seems a long shot to me.

    Vigneault on the other hand, I think there is a good chance he’s done in Vancouver.

    The question becomes, would Habs fans welcome him back?

    I know I would.

    Go Habs Go!
    Visit our NHL Draft Headquarters

  7. VancouverHab says:

    Mike Babcock and Alain Vignault may be available for Head Coach of the Habs, and some people are saying that there is choice to be made?

    Right. Like Albert Einstein and Bill Nye the Science Guy are available to teach your university physics course and there is a choice to be made.


    • habstrinifan says:

      No choice if both are available and speak French. But you gotta admit if Babcock doesnt then … well you know …

    • naweed235 says:

      None of those guys are going anywhere… Vignault = President’s trophy 2 yrs in a row + a game 7 final for the cup…. this year D. Sedin’s injury killed them…
      Babcock? well any organization letting him go is considered a retarded one on all accounts… unfortunately, the wings do not qualify

    • Un Canadien errant says:

      How about we all don’t get ahead of ourselves because this guy will be hired before the other guy(s). Neither Mr. Babcock or Mr. Vignault has been fired yet, or is likely to be. Moreover, the Canadiens haven’t hired a GM yet, so let’s leave the cart where it is and find the horse first.

      How about it NHL? No fighting, just hockey?


  8. H.Upmann says:

    Goodness! It’s hard to follow Shanahan’s thinking with this kind of record from this past year. Might as well roll dice..

  9. habstrinifan says:

    So the Canucks are out and all I can think about is “Oh Gawd NO!”

    Now , as a HABS fan, I have to spend the next while agonizing whether this is amazing serendipity or bedeviling ambs-ace.

    I have this feeling that it is inevitable that Alain Vigneault is now the leading candidate for coach of the HABS… and I just dont know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

    Personally I think the HABS right now need a coach who more reaches the souls of his players.

  10. ProHabs says:

    One thing we know now for sure, Vignault or Babcock will now be the next coach of the Habs. Vignault is done in Vancouver and Babcock is toast in Detroit. Either one would be a great choice for the Habs.

    • smiler2729 says:

      Michel Babcoque

      *Jack Edwards is a clam, Bruins are gutless weasel pukes*

    • HabinBurlington says:

      Why is Babcock toast?

      • ProHabs says:

        Expectations in Detroit are always high. A second round defeat to the Sharks last year and a first round lose to the Preds this year is not good. The Hockey News also reported that if the Wings don’t go far in this years playoffs, a coaching change could happen. Players start to tune out a coach at some point.

      • habstrinifan says:

        Dont think he is so much toast as it might be a very amicable and mutual determination by Detroit and Babcock to change for the sake of change.

    • Propwash says:

      I doubt it. It would be a huge step backwards for those organizations to let go of their coaches.

      “Access Forbidden” gettin’ ya down?
      Hold down Shift while clicking refresh.

    • habstrinifan says:

      See my post above yours. I would prefer Babcock.

      • HabinBurlington says:

        I don’t think you are alone in that choice.

        • habsfan0 says:

          and, as a McGill alumnus, I believe he is bilingual.

          • habstrinifan says:

            I wonder if any poster can confirm this. I had an exchange with a poster re Babcock last month and came away with the feeling that while Babcok was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario (fair french population) and went to McGill he in fact grew up in Saskatchewan.
            I hope he speaks French because if it is between him and Vigneault for everything that Mtl needs.. he wins by a wide margin.

          • habsfan0 says:

            Ultimately,Habs new HC will be chosen by their new GM.

          • sy0409 says:

            Babcock’s stint at McGill does not guarantee he speaks French… there is no French requirement at McGill… same way as I’m a McGill grad and all I can do in french is read off a restaurant menu 😀

          • Un Canadien errant says:

            Mike Babcock does not speak French. This was widely reported when the Wings were in town before the All-Star Break. He does know the town and has friends and roots here from his university days, but that’s it.

            How about it NHL? No fighting, just hockey?


          • cowellj17 says:

            Oh my god, if a coach of Mike Babcock’s caliber was available, and they didn’t hire him because he didn’t speak french ??!! Wow, then they deserve to sit in the basement of the East.

    • Propwash says:

      I’d take Babcock anyday.

      “Access Forbidden” gettin’ ya down?
      Hold down Shift while clicking refresh.

  11. smiler2729 says:

    And let the riot begin!!

    *Jack Edwards is a clam, Bruins are gutless weasel pukes*

  12. ProHabs says:

    The Sens better beat the Rangers. That way, at least they can physically punish the Bruins next round (as unfortunately Boston will beat Washington). Then when Boston beats the Sens, they will have to go through Philly. If they beat Philly, they will have to knock off St. Louis. That would be a tough road. Hopefully, the B’s can’t do it again.

    • Lizardking89 says:

      With any luck the Caps get the bounces next game and it doesn’t go to OT the Bruins have been money in OT. I think the teams left might be tough enough physically to put a hurt on these pricks.

  13. C-Sword says:

    Watch out St-Louis! Here come the Kings. Jonathan Quick > Halak and Elliot

  14. slapshot777 says:

    Anybody right now would have thought that Ottawa would be the only Canadian team left in the playoffs?

    • HabinBurlington says:

      Daryl Sutter is like the old Hitchcock, good for the first year or two. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Kings make a long run, Sutter has them clicking. No mistake hockey

      Edit: to answer your question yah guess i would be lying to say I expected this, but I have thought the Rangers have had smoke and mirrors all year. Always thought East went thru Pitt/Philly/Boston

    • JayK-47 says:

      That AND leading the series? That’s why I don’t gamble on sports (anymore)

    • boing007 says:

      There were only two to choose from.

      Richard R
      Price is an oyster. Unfortunately not all oysters produce pearls.

  15. Bill says:

    Sucks to be you, Vancouver Canucks.

    Full Breezer 4 Life

  16. HabinBurlington says:

    And with that the Canucks are done.

  17. HabinBurlington says:

    Is anybody watching this Overtime?

  18. habstrinifan says:

    Just checking out Claude Giroux’s stats/career etc.
    He played CJHL junioa ‘A’ hockey in Cumberland, right in my backyard near Orleans.

    I probably shoulda scouted him for the HABS. So just in case I decided to make up fo it.

    I did some scouting of the Cumberland Grads and am submitting the name of Jonathan Elliot for consideration by our next GM.

    You want size; you want mean; big.. this kid got all of that. Sure he’s a project… but one never knows.

    Dont blame me if the Flyers grab him.

  19. Habsolutely says:

    I was ok with the suspension on MaxPac, but the non-suspension on Malone for the Campoli hit was crock of BS. The Neil hit was fine.

  20. habstrinifan says:

    Thank you Stu Hackel for the article and videos on the Neil-on-Boyle hit and its comparison to Max Pac’s hit on Letang.

    I have to admit that I agree with Shanahan’s observation that Neil ddelivered his hit mostly to Boyle’s core. You can see it very clearly. And in hindsight and under unbiased scrutiny (hard to do as a HABS fan here) Max Pac’s hit unfortunately connected primarily and mostly with Letang’s head. The fact that it was mostly the ‘back’ of Pacioretty’s shoulder (almost the shoulder blades area) which seemd to have connected to Letang is further evidence that Pacioretty moved ‘incorrectly’ when delivering the hit. There was no intent to hit the head but when Pacioretty shifted his focus and his body and feet to follow Letang’s shot to the net it affected his angle. I dont like the categorization of the hit as ‘reckless’ (even if the NHL strangely uses the term non-perjoratively). A better categorization would have been simply ‘improper’.

    So in my opinion Shanahan got this one right. But having said all that he has still been very inconsistent in his rulings and was outrageously derelict in ignoring (not meting out punishment for) Weber’s action and yes Neil’s action in a previous game in the Rangers-Ottawa series.

    Again good work Stu Hackel.

  21. naweed235 says:

    The Bruin’s are like a bad case of gonorrhea…. they just won’t go away…

  22. habs001 says:

    if the bruins win game 7 the only way they play the flyers next is if the rangers win and the devils win…

    • smiler2729 says:

      The Boston BasTURDS won’t win Game 7, their little chowdahead fans will watch their zeroes cough it up on home ice on Wednesday (!)..

      How the hell do they get two and half days off between games, NHL who you favouring??

      *Jack Edwards is a clam, Bruins are gutless weasel pukes*

    • Lizardking89 says:

      I’m still hoping for a Caps win on Wednesday.

      On a side note I’d like to thank Burke for overpaying for Kessel thus allowing the Booins to draft Seguin. That kid is a beast and has put up some important goals in the post season. Good job Burke you putz.

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