Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta will likely be hearing from Brendan Shanahan in the very near future after his dangerous check on New York's Brad Richards. As Richards skated towards the boards, Kaleta shoved him from behind with his stick, sending Richards into the boards headfirst. Kaleta received a major penalty for checking from behind as well as a game misconduct for his reckless check. Richards left the game but later returned.
This is one dirty play. Richards skates towards the boards for several seconds before Kaleta makes contact. Make no mistake, this isn't one of those plays where the victim plays a role by shifting or turning at the last possible moment. Here, Richards' intentions were quite clear and Kaleta decided to hit him despite being fully aware that he was in a dangerous position.
After the game, Richards was clearly angry towards Kaleta, as evidenced by his quotes from Yahoo! Sports:
"That's just stupidity. He doesn't play hockey to begin with. It's the same guy all the time."
Believe it or not, some hockey fans are claiming Richards dove on the play. Their proof is that he seemed to fall over a bit too easily and later returned in the game. This notion is a ridiculous one. No player would dive headfirst into the boards, risking paralysis just to earn his team a power play. Common sense should rule the day here.
As for Kaleta, his record should speak for itself. He was suspended four games for a nasty head-butt in 2011. Kaleta is also responsible for ending Paul Kariya's terrific career thanks to an elbow to the head in 2009, which you can see below. After being struck by Kaleta, Kariya was never able to get over his post-concussion syndrome.
At this stage it's a question of just how big the suspension will be, not a question of whether or not there will be one. Clearly, Kaleta hasn't learned his lesson and the NHL needs to do something drastic for the message to finally be received.
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While I agree that the NHL still has a lot of improvements to make on actually holding players accountable for their past and present actions. This certainly is not the hit that should be used as the example, Kaleta has a lengthy history of questionable desicions, but I think this play actually shows that he has improved his game. He doesn't take off into Richards, he doesn't lead with his body, and Kaleta actually slows down before making any contact with Richards. In fact there is a hit later in this game delievered by Dan Girardi against Tyler Ennis that is far more aggresive and careless. While Girardi doesn't have the history like Kaleta does, why does Kaleta's cross check lead to a 5 Minute major, a game misconduct, and a suspension. Yet Girardi's clear hit from behind (Shoulder to the back of Ennis) only result in a 2 minute minor?? While I agree Kaleta's history speaks volumes about his "intent" on most plays, I don't think there is a need for a heavy fine and suspension here.
At some point, if the league is going to prove its seriousness regarding cleaning the game up of actions like this, some player is going to be suspended for a season or more. I don't think that this is that play, but clearly, given his history as a repeat offender, the league could do worse than to pick Kaleta to make an example of. Of course, they could do better, too... Raffi Torres, for one.
Alternatively, the league could take an approach similar to baseball's current take on performance-enhancing substances. First intentional hit to the head, a third of a season. Second, two thirds of a season. After that, start counting in full seasons. Certainly, there would need to be some caution in judging intent, just as there is now, but as I've argued here before, just like a player is responsible for their own stick, they should be responsible for their own helmets and gear, as well.