You’re bound to find the Stephen A. Smith’s and Tony Kornheiser’s of the world going crazy today about situations like the Brent Seabrook hit on David Backes in Game 2 of their NHL Playoff matchup. At this very moment I’m not very concerned about the deep philosophical and medical implications of this situation and whether or not anyone is a bad person because of it. Let’s look at this in a practical way and see how this REALLY affects the series, in which the St. Louis Blues now hold a 2-0 series lead.
I mean it has to be done, so here is the hit. Take a look in full speed and slow motion and try to stay calm if you’re a hockey fan, especially a Blues fan.
First, Seabrook is going to be suspended. Here is the excerpt from the 2013-14 NHL Rulebook, which highlights this section in an ominous red…
Rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:
(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.
(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable. SECTION 6 – PHYSICAL FOULS
(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.
The question is, how long will Seabrook be suspended.1 Take a look at a cursory breakdown of suspensions for boarding and hits to the head in the regular season and playoffs over the last 5 years here.2
This is by no means conclusive because of the small sample sizes, but there is a definite trend in suspensions being drastically lower in the playoffs except for the most egregious of hits, which skew the results. Based on this, Seabrook is likely looking at a 1-2 game suspension, with three representing a distinct but harsh possibility.
Now let’s look at this based solely on what effect all this has on the ice. Seabrook, a first pairing defenseman with a solid all-around game and underrated contributions is likely done for a few games. David Backes, the Blues team captain, third-leading scorer and first-line center could be sidelined for significantly longer.
There is no doubting Backes’s toughness, but there is increased awareness on concussions in the NHL for obvious reasons. The Blues may feel pressure from the NHLPA or the NHL to put Backes through all the steps thoroughly before allowing him to return.
This is an advantage for the Blackhawks, despite the loss of one of their top blue liners. Seabrook is the fourth defenseman in penalty kill time on ice for the Blackhawks, meaning he’s the last regular penalty kill defenseman. This will push up a player to the PK unit that normally doesn’t play more than 30-40 seconds per game on the penalty kill.
There is one more place where the loss of Seabrook is truly going to hurt, blocked shots. Seabrook is number two on Chicago in blocked shots with 142. Blackhawks netminder, Corey Crawford, is going to face more shots in the next couple games because fewer will be knocked down before getting to him.
The loss of Backes doesn’t just hurt the Blues during even strength play, he was tied for 13th in the league and leads the Blues in power play goals (10), despite being just fifth on the team in power play time on ice per game.
A surprising combination of stats will need to be made up for in Backes’s absence as well. Few players are both big hitters and face-off machines. Backes leads the team in percentage of face-offs taken (27%), not surprising being he is the first-line center, and hits (273). To put the checks into perspective, his 273 checks ranks him third in the league. The loss of Backes is going to open up some lanes for the Blackhawks talented skaters either through more freedom to hold onto the puck or through less talented hitters trying to make up for the lack of Backes, opening up passing lanes right before the check.
With a 2-0 advantage in the series already, the Blackhawks will need to have a good showing at home. The loss of a captain is worse than the loss of a first-pairing defenseman, but neither is going to be easily dealt with. If the Blues can take advantage of the extra shooting lanes without Seabrook in the lineup, they could pepper Crawford with shots and take commanding control of this series with three wins, even if Chicago takes one at home.
The Blackhawks could take advantage of what will feel like a larger ice surface without Backes out there. Their crisp passing and creative play could flourish on the first-line now that the best two-way forward on that line will likely be out or, at the very least, much less effective over the next few games.
If there is a three next to the Blues before returning home for game 5, they shouldn’t have much trouble closing the series out.
Brent Seabrook gets a three-game suspension for his hit on David Backes.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 20, 2014
One more than expected, and quite possibly the rest of this series. The extent of Backes’s injury has yet to be seen.