It's up to NHL players to curb hits

CHICAGO -- So the NHL has spoken and Deryk Engelland of the Pittsburgh Penguins will have to miss three games and forfeit $9,189.18 of his salary for his head shot to the Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger in the Pens' 3-2 win on Monday.

Brendan Shanahan, from the league's department of player safety, was spot on in explaining the suspension. He said Engelland "launched himself making Kruger's head the principal point of contact with his left forearm."

Additionally, Shanahan completely contradicts Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, who claimed the hit was a "full body check."

"Although Engelland has Kruger lined up for what potentially could be a clean full body check, his elevation and launch upon impact as well as the way in which Engelland forcefully drives his hands and arms up and into the face of Kruger makes this, in our eyes, a recklessly targeted shot to Kruger's head," Shanahan said.

Bylsma should be embarrassed for his comments considering the condition of his star player, Sidney Crosby, along with the organization's strong stance last season in condemning their own Matt Cooke for his recklessness.

The league got it right in giving Engelland a stronger punishment, by one game, than the Flames' Rene Bourque received on an illegal hit on Brent Seabrook just two days earlier. Bourque hit Seabrook from behind, leading to a head injury when Seabrook fell into the boards. Engelland targeted the head as the point of first contact. There's a difference.

The next issue the league needs to address, in order to curb these incidents further, is to decide if 2-3 games for these types of hits is enough of a deterrent.

"The way they were looking at these incidents at the start of the season, the severity of the suspensions, whether it's gotten to a different level ... I think players are aware ... there has to be a deterrent in place," Joel Quenneville said before Wednesday's game against Montreal. "I think that has to be pretty severe in its own right ... The number of games [given for suspension] has been cut down."

In other words, it sounds like Quenneville thinks the league talked tough to start the season but the penalties haven't been as severe lately.

"To be a victim of that, you think about it much more and it gets on your nerves more when things like that happen," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "That's why there is fighting in hockey for a long time. Guys aren't going to do stupid things like that if they're going to have to answer the bell."

The only problem with that notion is though John Scott made Engelland pay for his illegal hit, the Hawks ended up paying the ultimate price in the form of giving up a power play goal -- due to Scott's instigator penalty -- in a game they eventually lost by just one. It's yet another issue the league needs to address.

But ultimately, as the players have been saying, this comes down to them. They need to be more careful. Bourque had some mitigating circumstances as the puck got caught on the boards, and as Seabrook slowed up Bourque could not. Engelland has no excuse whatsoever. And neither does Bylsma. The moment the Penguins came down publicly on Cooke he changed his style and he's stayed out of trouble. Teams and players have to come down on their own or nothing will change in a culture in which 99 percent of the time a teammate can do no wrong. In these cases, he can.

Many Hawks fans must be wondering how the referees fit into the equation in regards to Engelland's hit on Kruger. They never blew the whistle on him yet he was suspended for three games. Obviously, refs Chris Lee and Rob Martell missed the call. In fact, as a coach, Joel Quenneville is more concerned with that aspect than any future penalties.

"When you're playing that game you're not too concerned about what happens afterwards," he said. "We want the right call made on the ice."

Referees are reviewed and assessed on a nightly basis. While its rare one would be suspended or even fined, their performances generate playoff assignments or lack thereof. Of course, over time, they must meet certain performance standards to remain in the NHL. Undoubtedly, Lee and Martell were shown their mistake and instructed to do better next time.