Given that the hit was late and there was an injury, the expectation was that David Backes might get a little piece of supplementary discipline for his hit on Frans Nielsen in Tuesday night’s win over the Detroit Red Wings.
The 33-year-old Backes got a lot more than he probably bargained for as the NHL Player Safety Department announced that the B’s power forward was handed a three-game suspension for an interference hit on Nielsen. The hit came in the first period as Nielsen attempted to clear the puck from the Detroit zone while backed up against the side boards. Backes came in for the hit late, well after Nielsen had released the puck that was intercepted by David Pastrnak, and threw his shoulder into the Red Wings forward as he skated on past him.
Nielsen immediately went down to the ice in a heap and exited the game for good in the first period, and Backes was quickly whistled for a roughing call as a result of the injury. While the head contact wasn’t really predatory in nature, Backes lost much of the benefit of the doubt with the Player Safety Department based on the extreme lateness of the hit.
“In addition to the lateness of the check, what elevates this hit to merit supplemental discipline is the significant head contact that occurs and the force with which it is delivered,” said NHL Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Damian Echevarrieta on the video explaining the suspension. “While we acknowledge Backes’ attempt to contort his body in a way that might minimize the force of the hit, what results is a hit with substantial and forceful contact to Nielsen’s head.”
The three-game suspension for Backes would certainly seem excessive for an exceedingly honest, veteran player like him that has never been fined or suspended prior in his 848-game NHL career, but the league isn’t fooling around when it comes to unnecessary hits to the head. The targeting of the head plus the upper body injury to Nielsen made three games a consensus punishment that would have been even more had Backes been a repeat offender.
This humble hockey writer’s opinion: Backes definitely hit Nielsen late and likely caused a head injury with the contact on the hit, but it didn’t appear to me that the head was the main point of contact. Instead it looked like Backes barely grazed Nielsen’s chin with a shoulder check that was landed at the Red Wings player’s chest, and perhaps rode up as he was skating past him. Three games felt excessive for Backes in his first time facing supplemental discipline during a physical, clean 13-year NHL career, and it doesn’t really seem to give much of a benefit of the doubt to a former All-Star player and longtime Blues captain.
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But the bottom line is that the criteria for clean/dirty hits changes once they arrive as late as Backes did on Nielsen on Tuesday night, and it was the unnecessary tardiness of the hard check that began setting everything else in motion for his three-game suspension. It’s expected that Tommy Wingels will step in to play third-line center while Backes goes out of the lineup, and it will give him a chance to play a little center for the Bruins down the stretch.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on his average annual salary, Backes will forfeit $96,774.18 while sitting out the next three games. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.