Although he stands 6-foot-9 and would be the least likely NHL player to be victimized by a lateral hit to the head or one from behind, as defined by Rule 48, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara wants you to know he still receives his fair share of blows to the noggin.
“As far as my height, maybe I’m a taller guy, my head isn’t in a danger zone, knock on wood,” Chara told TheBruinsBlog.net during a chat about Rule 48 Tuesday after his team’s practice. “But at the same time, you’d be surprised how many times I go to hit guys and I run into them with their heads. That happened the other night when I went to hit [St. Louis’ T.J.] Oshie in the corner. I went to hit him, he leaned in, and boom I got it right in the chin. I fell down because that knocked me down. So people don’t see it, but when you go and hit smaller guys and they lean … I got it right on my chin, I went down. It’s one of those things that sometimes the height is not always an advantage.”
No one has sympathy for Goliath, so Chara will have to deal with the blows to his chin if he’s going to keep playing the game as hard as he always has and do it with his patented combination of physicality and intimidation. So far this season, it doesn’t appear that Chara’s playing with any less force than in the past.
However, it seems that Chara has slightly (and somewhat undetectably) altered his approach by playing with his edge, but doing so smartly, in light of Rule 48.
Tuesday the league’s 30 general managers, in light of San Jose center Joe Thornton’s hit on St. Louis winger David Perron and subsequent two-game suspension, were gathered in Toronto discussing the rule and watching video of several players that avoided a hit to an opponent’s head the right way – a video that included a Chara play. Coincidentally, he and I discussed how he has handled checking his opponents when seemingly every player is head level to his shoulders.
“I’m playing the same way. You just have to be kind of careful when you’re stepping up or when you’re having those quick, split-second decision when you see a guy coming,” said Chara. “It’s such a reaction, that sometimes you don’t have time to react, you do that hit and you get suspended. But if you can, you really have to be smart about it. You don’t want to obviously do something that’s going to affect somebody else’s life or you obviously don’t want to miss any playing time.”
Chara couldn’t come up with specific examples in terms of games or players, but he described a situation that arises every game when he has to approach a certain play differently.
“There’s been a few times, especially when a guy’s coming like this and you’re riding him,” said Chara, making hand gestures to show a guy cutting toward the middle of the ice. “He’s cutting the middle and you have to play the puck. You can’t go in and just run a guy because …
“In the past, we were OK to do that [make contact with the head]. There was no set rule, so we did that and it was no problem. But now you have to be careful because obviously that’s a set rule and suspensions are anywhere from two, five games.”
Chara said he hadn’t yet watched a replay of the Thornton-Perron hit, but when it was described to him – including the fact that Thornton holds a 4-inch height advantage on Perron, and Thornton was exiting the penalty box when Perron came into the neutral zone – the Bruins defenseman’s eyes got wide. He was puzzled as to how he would approach such a play and avoid the type of hit that could land him on the sidelines for his team’s next couple games.
“There’s a guy like Joe, he’s 6-4, 6-5, and he can’t really go down to his knees to hit a guy,” said Chara, with a smile on his face that showed he was half-kidding but also trying to decipher the puzzle. “He has to be standing. What are you going to do?
“I don’t know what to do. Turn around and make him run into your back? I don’t know how to avoid it. If you do that, he might go around you and then you look stupid. It’s a tough one. A tough one.”
Rule 48 escaped the discussion at the GM meetings untouched. As more Thornton-like hits occur it’ll be interesting to see how enforcement of the rule evolves and if the GMs revisit it down the road. For now, Chara will just do his best to avoid violating Rule 48 and also try to keep his chin out of dangerous situations.