The Play: Early in the first period of a 3-1 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday, Kyle Okposo was boarded head first into the corner by the Devils’ Taylor Hall.
Okposo hit the boards pretty hard, but thankfully got up unscathed. Taylor Hall received a 2 minute boarding minor, and after the game, was fined $5,000 by the NHL.
The Hit: Taylor Hall is a pretty clean player who doesn’t have a track record for dangerous play so it was kind of odd to seem him be the offender here.
The hit didn’t appear to be intentional, but it was certainly foolish and lazy.
If you have played hockey or just skated in general, you know when it comes to the boards, it is a very natural reaction to bring your hands up a bit to brace for impact.
I believe Taylor wanted to hit Okposo to jar the puck loose and had he have just used his body to do that he would have probably delivered a nice clean check with no repercussions.
After watching the video back multiple times, Hall just got lazy while moving too fast and tried to use Okposo to brace for the impact while also delivering his check.
Things could have ended far worse and Hall had enough time before coming in to switch his angle for impact.
The Response: I had no problem with the Sabres response to the hit. The game was very early in and the last thing you want to do is take a penalty that eliminates a chance to get ahead on the power play.
If Okposo would’ve stayed down injured then by all means protect your guy regardless of consequences. But they can get Hall back in another game and you better believe a nice clean bone-crushing hit will be coming for him.
The NHL/referees on the other hand could have and should have done more. Even if Taylor Hall did not mean to hit Okposo like that it was still highly dangerous.
The referees at minimum should have given a five-minute major to Hall and possibly thrown him out. Just because Okposo got up quickly does not remove how dangerous that play was.
Today, sports are more focused than ever on limiting head hits due to CTE issues. The consequences for head hits need to be zero tolerance at all points regardless of the situation.
I do believe the NHL has improved on punishing head shots in general, but even on plays like this where the player skates away safely, the punishment still has to be severe.
League Culture: One of the things over the last two seasons that has become clearly evident is players being far less willing to jump into fights after a big hit.
I attribute this to a league wide shift where you have players less concerned with fighting and more concerned with setting the tone by scoring or out-hustling the other team.
Enforcers in the NHL are nearly nonexistent anymore because teams value being a complete player even on the fourth line more then someone who just fights.
Today’s hockey players are far smarter than their predecessors and understand that in a lot of situations it is better to take the power play then potentially wipe away that advantage.
Hockey players will still fight without issue or get retribution for a dirty play, but they are much more situationally aware of when and how payback is given as to not hurt their team in the process.