The Kostopoulos Hit
I hate to agree with Mike Milbury, but he was the only one of the Hotstove panelists with a reasonable position on the Tom Kostopoulos hit. Like Mike, I thought it was a legal check. (Unlike Mike, I don’t think it should be legal, but that’s another story.)
Eric Francis declared that an NHL GM told him that the Kostopoulos hit was exactly the type of hit the league had to eliminate – which is probably true – but that does not change the fact that under the existing rules the hit was legal. I get why Francis, LeBrun and Maclean want headshots out of the game – I do, too – but that requires a rule change. If all headshots had been eliminated last summer, it would be fair to throw the book at Kostopoulos. Except they were not eliminated by the now infamous Rule 48.
Clearly it isn’t fair to suspend a player for a legal hit. Yet suspend him, they did:
“A number of factors were considered in reaching this decision. Kostopoulos delivered a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player. As well, he targeted the head of his opponent and, while the hit was not from the blindside, the head was the principle point of contact. The fact that Brad Stuart was not in possession of the puck when the blow was delivered and the serious nature of the player’s injury were also considered in my decision.” – Colin Campbell
Even if we accept Campbell’s facts, it still isn’t a penalty because – as Campbell admits – it was not a blindside hit. And, Campbell doesn’t have his facts right. Stuart was not unsuspecting. He was fishing for the puck and he knew that he had been fishing for far too long. A hit had to be coming. Stuart even took a quick look just before he was crunched. He was vulnerable, but hitting a vulnerable player is not against the rules. And if he did not have the puck when he was hit, it was not for a lack of trying.
I can’t help but think that Kostopoulos was suspended because Stuart was hurt and letting Tom off would make the league look bad like it looked bad when Cooke laid out Marc Savard. It would be fine by me if the league looked bad because that would force the league to – eventually – deal with the issue of head injury. Instead the NHL is pretending this hit was outside the rules and pretending they have dealt with the issue of head injury.