Horton got a shoulder, Rome got the shaft

Paul Kariya wasn't expecting to get hit by Scott Stevens in 2003, and we all know what happened to him. You'd think Nathan Horton would have remembered to keep his head up coming over the middle in the Stanley Cup Finals. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here’s the dirty little secret about Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton that no one wants to acknowledge: it wasn’t that bad.

It was a little bit late. That’s all. People need to chill out. Rome didn’t go head hunting and he didn’t hit Horton from his blindside like people keep saying — it was from directly in front of him. Horton makes a pass, takes two steps, and gets rocked. Rome didn’t charge him; he was turned and stood up at the blue line. The hit came 1-2 seconds after he made the pass, which isn’t that late. Pause the video on the pass and the hit and see for yourself. 

I’m thinking people are more concerned with the result of the hit than the hit itself, but that is a horrible way to judge things. You can’t base punishment and accusations of dirty play based on whether or not the guy gets injured. If something is bad, it’s bad no matter what the result.

If Horton maybe looks around him instead of watching his pass, he probably wouldn’t be concussed right now. If he only got knocked off his balance or fell down and got right up, this hit isn’t that big of a deal. It’s maybe two minutes for interference, but who knows in the playoffs.

The form of the check was fine. There was no additional malice, not more than you would use for any other check. You aim for the chest and explode through the man. That’s what Rome did. His elbow was tucked at the time impact and he led with the shoulder. It’s just a little late. That’s all.

There’s a referee in front of the play who doesn’t put his arm up. Even if he turned to watch the pass, he would have looked back for a hit that big. There’s no saying he didn’t see it; it was straight in front of him, and he didn’t have a call.

The referee following the play from behind puts his arm up, three seconds after the check and long after Horton had hit the ice.  There’s some internal debate that runs through your mind as a referee when you see something you think might be a penalty, and the back ref made up his mind in an appropriate amount of time. He did fine, but if you watch him, you can see he went over it in his head before making the call. It wasn’t something he saw and immediately shot his arm up for.

There’s something to be said about Horton expecting a hit, too. Defensemen salivate daydreaming about forwards coming over the line with their head down like that. Some people say a forward deserves anything that happens to him if he has his head down. I’ll give Horton a pass because it was a little late, but he clearly was not expecting to be hit, at all.

That part is inexcusable. This is the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s physical. It’s intense. Your guys are getting in the other team’s face in a not-so-polite manner. They’re going to want a piece of you any chance they get. You better look both ways before you come out of the dressing room, let alone attempt to cross the blue line.

I’m not trying to take all the blame off Rome. His timing was not great, but that doesn’t make it some barbaric act like people are making it out to be, and Horton needs to be held accountable for some of it, too. Rome doesn’t have a history of playing dirty and he shouldn’t get one for this hit. If it came half a second sooner or if Horton braced for it, no one even remembers the play.

Vancouver contends it was a clean hit. I don’t know about that, but I do know it wasn’t as bad as everyone’s making it out to be. I feel bad that someone had to be taken out on a stretcher, even if he does play for Boston. That doesn’t change the facts. You can’t dish out punishment because you feel bad. That’s like saying Nathan Horton is more valuable to the league than Tim Connolly. Even if you believe that, you can’t say that and you certainly can’t rule like that.

You also can’t dole out discipline based on how long the other person is out for. That’s not how the league works. There’s too many other factors that go in to injuries. Identical hits on Connolly and Drew Stafford likely would produce different outcomes. You penalize the action, not the results (game misconducts are slightly different). When we hear that the league took heavily into account the fact that Horton will not come back, that’s a red flag.

I’m going to contend the hit was not that bad. It’s unfortunate Horton was hurt. Rome got a penalty for interference, not roughing or elbowing or a head shot or anything else. You can’t blame someone for hitting hard. You can for hitting late. That’s two minutes. If you want to give him five and a game, that’s within the rules. That’s fine.

A four-game suspension is harsh. You can guarantee Rome is paying for Burrows’ biting incident that the league dropped the ball on. That’s retribution for Bruins fans, but that doesn’t make it fair to Rome. He and his agent are considering appealing the suspension, which makes sense when you consider it is longer than every other suspension in Cup Finals history added together.

There have been three other suspensions, and they were all one game. For a four-gamer that removes him from the rest of the finals, you would have thought Rome murdered someone. Nope, he just stepped up a fraction of a second too late.

Barry Melrose said that Rome “is an easier player to suspend” basically because he’s not a star. It’s true that it’d be harder for the NHL to say Kevin Bieksa is out for the rest of the series, but that’s so wrong to say. The punishment needs to fit the crime, regardless of who it is. If something is worthy of a suspension, it’s equally as worthy, regardless of who the offender is (as long as he has a clean record, like Rome). Go up to Rome and tell him, “too bad you weren’t a Sedin, because then it would only be one game,” and see what he says.

There’s no good way to handle this, besides don’t mess up in the first place. Burrows should have been suspended one game, but the precedent the league is setting is that minor players are going to have to pay for the actions of stars.

No one on either side is ever going to think it’s fair. They need people in the middle to nudge them and say it’s really not that bad. Aaron Rome is getting robbed of what will likely be the greatest memory of his life, and all you can do is hope his replacement plays well.

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