Colorado Avalanche: Common Sense Rule Change After Calvert Injury

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 16: Matt Calvert #11 of the Colorado Avalanche is attended to by a team trainer after getting hit with a shot during NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on November 16, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 16: Matt Calvert #11 of the Colorado Avalanche is attended to by a team trainer after getting hit with a shot during NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on November 16, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche saw one of their forwards go down with a scary injury — and have to remain down because of a poorly thought-out NHL rule.

Injured Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert has returned to Denver while the team continues its road trip. He’ll receive treatment from the team doctors for his unspecified head injury. While the exact nature of the head injury is as yet unspecified — Jared Bednar couldn’t confirm that he had a concussion — the cause of the injury is well known.

Calvert took a slapshot to the head at point blank range. He writhed on the ice, bleeding and in obvious pain, from his head injury for a full 14 seconds. When the Colorado Avalanche’s medical staff was finally able to gain the ice and attend to him — costing, of course, a few more seconds with travel time — we could see that he was bleeding copiously from behind the ear. (Look at the now ubiquitous picture above.)

We don’t know what those extra seconds cost Calvert on the health scale. We can see very clearly in the video below what it cost him on the pain scale:

The hardest part to watch, for me anyway, is how disoriented he looks when he finally gets to get up and head for the locker room and treatment for his injury. It reminds me of that time Colorado Avalanche prospect Joey Hishon took the awful hit to his head and had to wobble his own way toward the bench. You’ll notice it’s Nikita Zadorov who helps him off the ice. Zadorov — himself no stranger to having to make his own way off the ice after suffering an injury to the head.

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this topic here because I’d already screamed my rage into the void when it first happened and because our contributor, Karen, covered her take on the matter here:

Calvert Deserved More Respect. light. Related Story

However, the topic hasn’t quite died down, nor should it. We all hope Matt Calvert is going to be fine the way Nikita Zadorov seems to be fine, or fine enough to play anyway. But what about the next slapshot situation, maybe one involving a player with a known heavy shot?

The fastest shot in the NHL is about 108 miles per hour, with the average being between 80 to 95 MPH. A player taking that fast of a shot to the head at point blank range could end up with a cracked skull. Those 10 or so seconds from the officials not blowing the play dead could be life and death. Or they could result in brain damage.

The reason they didn’t blow the play dead is in the following rule:

"“When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured possession of the puck. If the player’s team is in possession of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position.“In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the Referee and/or Linesman may stop the play immediately.”"

That last part is the caveat that seems to be tripping everyone up. An official may stop the play if the player is seriously injured.

Yesterday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked to speak on the situation involving Calvert. Here’s what he said:

"“Generally [the rule allowing officials to stop the game] is applied with common sense and that’s what we encourage the officials to [use]. Obviously if the player is in real distress on the ice, the officials need to react. But those are tough situations to be in to evaluate in real time. What you don’t want — and this wasn’t the case [with Calvert] — you don’t’ want it being used for gamesmanship, where a game is stopped needlessly. Having said that, any time a player is in distress, the officials know they need to stop the game.”"

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So, perhaps you’ve heard of the compliment sandwich. When you need to be critical of someone’s work, you start with a compliment, give the criticism, and end on a positive note. The technique is a way of conveying information without being rude.

Bettman gave us a lip service sandwich. He started with “Of course you want officials to put the safety of the player first,” and ended with “Officials need to stop the game when a player is in distress.” However, his real message comes in the middle: The NHL doesn’t want to risk players faking injuries to stop the play.

NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom was even more disingenuous than Bettman when he spoke at the recent GM’s meeting:

"“It seemed like an eternity in that game, even though it was closer to four or five seconds.* The puck was moving around, the players were checking, the player attempted to get up and, of course we would have like to have blown the play down earlier, especially when it resulted in an injury.”"

*It was 14 seconds — you only have to look at the game clock in the above video to see that.

He continues:

"“That was at a spot in the middle of the ice that I don’t think anyone had a great sightline on, They just wanted to make sure. And by the time they were sure, the puck was in the net.”"

To be honest, that whole quote infuriates me. Calvert committed the cardinal sin of trying to get up? When he couldn’t and flopped back onto the ice, that should have been the best indicator that he wasn’t faking.

However, the second part, the part about wanting to be sure Calvert was truly in pain and not faking it is the crux of the matter for me.

NHL referees must be proficient skaters with an in-depth knowledge of the rules and the game. They can get formal training, but they mostly learn on the job. At no point are they required to get a degree, much less a medical license.

In other words, how can a layman gauge what’s a serious injury requiring immediate medical attention?

Second, expecting the officials to make such a call is a lot of pressure to put on a group of men who are also trying to watch the high-speed action going on in a hockey game. I say an official could have skated over to Calvert, but, truthfully, they’re supposed to remain in position to officiate the game.

So now, you’re expecting a layman to make a medical judgement call from across the ice.

Where’s the common sense in any of that? We’re really just paying lip service to player safety while trying to maintain the “competitive” nature of the game.

TV analyst for the Colorado Avalanche Mark Rycroft, himself a former NHL player had the best solution:

In other words, puck to the head = blow the play dead.

This level of rule change should not negatively impact how the game is played. You will have zero instances of a player faking that occurrence because you can’t fake taking a puck to the head. I also can’t imagine even a lot of NHLers are rabidly competitive enough to willingly take a puck to the head just to stop the play.

Can some players shake off taking a puck to the head? Sure. Zadorov himself cleared the puck after hauling himself up. However, why force the issue?

Such a rule change is good for the officials, too. Now, they wouldn’t have to use their non-existent medical knowledge and limited sightline to make a medical prognosis. At least one of them should be tracking the puck. I honestly don’t think it would be that hard for one of four men all looking at essentially the same thing could miss said thing ringing off a player’s head.

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You’re never going to eliminate all injuries from a game. You’re never going to tweak the rule book just right so that every call is as easy as pie.

There might be one thing you can eliminate, though — another situation where a player loses valuable seconds of medical attention because his team hasn’t regained possession of the puck yet. You can eliminate what happened to Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert.