With the eyes of the hockey world on Stockholm this week for the NHL Global Series, the first game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres featured a questionable no-call, followed by an equally suspicious lack of response by the league. Sabres forward Vladimir Sobotka was forced from the game early after receiving a low-bridge hit from Lightning star Nikita Kucherov. There was no penalty called on the play and The Athletic’s Joe Smith reported that no supplemental discipline will come from the NHL Department of Player Safety. Especially after responding quickly to the Nick Foligno hit on Friday and given the visibility of the Global Series game, should the league have done more about this incident?
The hit in question is questionable indeed (video). Sobotka throws the puck on goal from out near the blue line, while continuing to coast to his left with his focus staying on the puck, now behind the Tampa net. A defenseless and unexpecting Sobotka runs into Kucherov, who has bent down and lowered his body to deliver a hip check that decks Sobotka, sending him end-over-end. This type of low bridge hit has been punished in the past by the league, but there was no call on the ice – likely as attention was on the puck – and the league did not feel it warranted further review. Yet, it seemingly meets many of the criteria that would raise the hit to the level of supplemental discipline. It was late, away from the puck, with intent, and did in fact cause injury. Sobotka was seen after the game with a cast and is expected to miss time for Buffalo.
With that said, this style of low check used to be a non-issue in the NHL. The fact that it was late and away from the play should have resulted in an interference or roughing penalty on the ice, but the hit itself would not have been finable or suspendable years ago. While the league should have at least admitted the error by the referees, there is some understanding as well as to why there was no further review. The issue now is whether the league will be consistent in not issuing discipline for low bridge hits, which the likes of Brad Marchand and Nazem Kadri have been nailed for in the past. Kucherov’s status as a superstar and the fact that the league wanted him available for game two of their international event should not have been a factor in the decision, but very well could have been.
What do you think? Should Kucherov have been disciplined for the low-bridge hit that injured Sobotka? Vote below and share your thoughts in the comments.