The Dallas Stars are just over a quarter of the way through the season and Ty Dellandrea seems to be the unfortunate victim of multiple missed penalty calls. There is cause for concern from all the hard hits he has recieved so far this season. There’s a possibility that Dellandrea could have multiple concussions during his career.
The discussion about head safety and hockey hits is one that resurfaces often, and for good reason. But there is often confusion with conflating legality and safety. Nevertheless, a legal hit can still be dangerous.
Delving into brain injury, the rulebook, and safety is something that could span an endless number of articles and will surely be revisited. For the sake of this one, we will specifically focus in on Dellandrea this season.
In a 2010-2011 study, 17% of reported concussions in the NHL were from illegal hits and 44% of reported concussions were from legal hits. The definition for an illegal hit in this study is where “a penalty was called and/or supplemental discipline was imposed.” For the purposes of examining hits on Dellandrea, let’s examine two instances where he was hit in a way that was technically legal, but left fans stunned that there was no penalty called.
During the November 11 game versus the Sharks, Logan Couture leveled Dellandrea. There was no penalty called on Couture, although his arm flew out at Dellandrea’s face and helped knock off his helmet. In the NHL, players are not allowed to deliberately make hits to the head to lessen the amount of concussions. Unfortunately, the way the rule is enforced is murky. Was Couture’s contact deliberately at his head or was the head contact secondary?
I would argue this was a missed call. Now missed calls do happen but this is not an isolated incident for Dellandrea. During the November 23 game against Chicago, Jared Tinordi checks him at an angle from the front with clear intent to hit without any interest in taking the puck.
Just listen to Razor. During the replay of Tinordi’s hit against Dellandrea he commented “Tinordi’s coming over there gloves down, ignores the puck, and plants Dellandrea. And this has happened a couple of times to Ty”. He then references the aforementioned Couture hit. Dellandrea is scrappy, hardworking, and has made it clear he’s here to stay in the NHL. Hits like these put him and other players in unnecessarily scary situations.
Stepping away from Dellandrea’s specific situation for a moment, if many so-called legal hits are causing injury, especially head injuries, then perhaps it’s time to evaluate whether the rulebook is protecting players. Remember, this is a league where the commissioner continues to deny a link between hockey concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) despite a growing amount of evidence.
CTE is “thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head and repeated episodes of concussion.” Both of these qualifiers are common in hockey.
Going back to the idea of legality vs safety, let’s say for the sake of argument that both hits were “legal.” Should they be? Dellandrea got hit in ways that had visible impact to his head in the video. To our knowledge he was not concussed, but that is twice in the span of 12 days that he was hit in a dangerous way with no repercussions against the person hitting him.
Not penalizing hits like these helps set a precedent that they are “ok” to do. That study referenced from 2011 showed 44% of concussions were from legal hits. It’s fair to say there was something wrong with the rules dictating legality. There was a study in 2013 which examined whether the rule changes made after 2011 regarding hits to the head would decrease the number of concussions.
Dishearteningly, the number of concussions increased with statistical significance. Also noteworthy, only 28% of events that caused concussions had a penalty issued. For the sake of player longevity and quality of life, that’s a dangerous direction to go in. While 2013 may seem forever ago, it does not feel like much has changed.