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It’s Nice to See That NHL Player Safety Hasn’t Changed

Photo Credit: @NHLPlayerSafety/Twitter

It’s been six days since the qualifying round began, and in those six days, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DoPS or just Player Safety for short) has been doing what it does best: making wildly inconsistent decisions. I guess they just really want to be sure these playoffs are as close to normal as possible. If DoPS actually did their jobs, it wouldn’t be normal, so props to them for making that sacrifice for the integrity of these playoffs.

Jokes aside, it really has been as frustratingly inconsistent as ever. They’ve already let blatantly suspendable and dangerous hits go unpunished while penalizing more minor infractions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that they’re penalizing the small things that are worthy of it. But, the dangerous stuff, and in particular the headshots, has to be punished. There’s no excuse not to with the amount of video they have access to now. This is something that has to change, or there’s no point in having the DoPS. To show you just how inconsistent they’ve been, let’s take a look at what has and has not been punished so far.

Caggiula the Only One Suspended So Far

So far in this qualifying round, there has only been one suspension. Chicago’s Drake Caggiula was suspended for an illegal check to the head on Edmonton’s Tyler Ennis. Check out the play for yourself below.

Clearly, that’s a suspendable hit. The primary point of contact is the head, and although Ennis lowered his head a bit due to his follow-through, Caggiula had more than enough time to back off or readjust. Despite this, he made no effort to stop. So, he deserved his suspension. Honestly, I think he deserved more than he got. But, that being said, I wasn’t overly surprised to just see the one game given they’re only playing a five-game series. Had it been the regular season, or even a seven-game playoff series, I think it would’ve been more. It’s just how Player Safety works.

Ferland, Kunin, Matheson Fined

In addition to the one suspension, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has handed out three fines in the qualifying round. And boy, were they all over the place. 

Ferland/Hartman/Kunin Kerfuffle

The first one was handed out to Vancouver’s Michael Ferland for spearing Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman. See the play below.

Clearly, Ferland speared the guy in the groin. Spearing is a fineable or suspendable offense in the NHL, so Ferland deserved to be punished. He was given a $5,000 fine, which is the max allowed under the CBA. I wholeheartedly agree with giving him that, as he isn’t a repeat offender (to my knowledge), so he didn’t deserve to be suspended. But, he did clearly spear Hartman in the groin, and Hartman wasn’t even on the ice. You just can’t do that. So, he 

definitely deserved the maximum possible fine.

That wasn’t the only fine that was handed out as a result of this though. Apparently, what started this whole kerfuffle was Kunin grabbed Ferland’s stick from the bench. So, Ferland went to retaliate but got Hartman instead. You aren’t allowed to grab an opponent’s stick while you’re on the bench, obviously, and frankly, it’s just a stupid thing to do.

As a result, Kunin got slapped with a $1,000 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct. $1,000 is nothing to these guys ($5,000 really isn’t either), but under the rules, that’s a minor but punishable offense, so I agree with doing something about it. Basically, it’s just enough to get his attention and warn others of what will happen if they decided to do it too for some dumb reason. Also, the stick grabbing was what incited the spear, so I can see giving him something for instigating (which falls under unsportsmanlike conduct) if nothing else.

Matheson High Stick on Nelson

The other fine that’s been handed out so far was a $2,500 one to Florida’s Mike Matheson for high-sticking the Islander’s Brock Nelson. Check out the play for yourself below.

And here’s the resulting injury.

There was absolutely no reason for Matheson’s stick to be up that high. While it’s true that he looks a little off-balance, he wasn’t even close to off-balance enough to excuse that. He swung a little extra and tried to pass it off as he was tripping. There’s no way he would’ve swung like that and did that much damage otherwise. So, he absolutely deserved supplemental discipline. 

Frankly $2,500 is far too low. He should’ve been fined the maximum, which as I said above, is $5,000. There’s even an argument for a suspension because it appeared to be intentional, but I doubt it was even discussed. But, Matheson is a repeat offender, so at the very least, he should’ve gotten the $5,000 fine, especially since it was handed out to Ferland for a less dangerous play. It’s just another frustrating example of how inconsistent Player Safety is. I guess at least he got something though. But it wasn’t enough.

THREE Head Shots Left Unpunished

And now, we get to why I decided to write this article. There have been THREE clear headshots that haven’t been punished in the six days since the qualifying round began. Check all of them out below.

Matheson on Boychuk

First up, we have Mike Matheson’s headshot on the Islander’s Johnny Boychuk. This is a clear shoulder to the head, and if you watch, Matheson clearly pushed himself up to hit his head and even left his feet, so it was intentional. That’s a textbook suspendable hit. 

The NHL claims to want to eliminate these from the game, but they did nothing about this one. In fact, it was even changed to a minor penalty after being reviewed since it was initially deemed a major. Boychuk did not return to the game, and has not played since. If nothing else, that should’ve gotten Player Safety’s attention. Overall, it’s utterly shameful that they missed this.

Chiarot on Crosby

Next up, we have this lovely crosscheck to the back of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby’s head at the hands of Montreal’s Ben Chiarot. It was intentional and he hit nothing but Crosby’s head. Thankfully, Crosby is ok, but he has a history of concussion issues, which makes the fact that Chiarot did this even worse. How it went totally unpunished outside of a two-minute penalty (which should’ve been at least five because it was a head hit) is beyond me. It should’ve been an obvious suspension.

Goodrow on Bjork

Finally, we have Tampa Bay’s Barclay Goodrow’s hit to Boston’s Anders Bjork’s head. It’s a clear shoulder to the head. While Bjork’s head was normal than usual, Goodrow had PLENTY of time to readjust or back off the hit entirely. But, instead, he decided to just continue on. Like the other two, it’s a clear, intentional, dirty head hit, the kind the NHL claims they want to eliminate from the game. Yet, the Department of Player Safety did nothing. There wasn’t even a penalty called on the play. Luckily, Bjork is ok, but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a clearly suspendable hit.

Wilson Better Be Suspended

This one happened mere hours ago, so Player Safety still has time to make their decision. But, if this one isn’t suspended, we just need to give up on them doing anything useful during these playoffs. Washington’s Tom Wilson is a repeat offender (to say the least), and he never broke stride while making his way over to board Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov from behind. It’s a dirty, dangerous hit, and without a doubt, it’s a suspendable one. If Wilson doesn’t face any supplemental discipline for this, I will not be a happy person, to put it nicely. 

Final Thoughts

In short, while Player Safety has done some good so far in these playoffs, they’ve missed the most dangerous stuff that absolutely must be suspended. They’re as frustratingly inconsistent as always, and it needs to change. If the NHL is serious about eliminating head hits from the game, they need to start suspending every single player who throws an intentional one, regardless of whether or not it’s playoffs. Until then, they’ll keep happening, and Player Safety will remain a frustratingly inconsistent joke.

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

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