The NHL got the Kronwall suspension right. But what about Alex Ovechkin?

Alex Ovechkin (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Emotions run high during the Stanley Cup playoffs and, in turn, so does vitriol toward the NHL’s Department of Player Safety every time a questionable hit occurs. The victimized team and its fan base demand supplemental discipline. The perpetrating team and its fan base proclaim the player’s innocence. After the decision, one side ends up enraged.

The Detroit Red Wings and their tribe of keyboard warriors are furious with Niklas Kronwall’s Game 7 suspension. Sorry, Detroit, but you shouldn’t be. The Kronwall case wasn’t even vague. He hammered Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov with violent force directly to the head. It’s rule 48: illegal check to the head. Or, as the league stated specifically, it’s rule 42: charging. The DOPS had an excellent chance to send a zero-tolerance message by sitting down Detroit’s best blueliner for a series-deciding game. Consider the test passed with flying colors. The rationale behind the decision:

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Red Wings’ Niklas Kronwall suspended for Game 7 after hit on Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

Niklas Kronwall (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings will be without their best defenseman for Game 7 Wednesday after the NHL suspended veteran Niklas Kronwall one game for a head shot on Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov Monday.

The league announced the suspension late Tuesday evening, with the Department of Player Safety referencing Kronwall’s contact with Kucherov’s head and Kronwall’s feet leaving the ice at the moment of impact as factors in its decision: Read more

Suspend him or not: Niklas Kronwall should be ‘Kronwalled’

Ken Campbell
Niklas Kronwall (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

If there is any sense of justice in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings will be without their best defenseman for Game 7 of their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night. And if the Department of Player Safety doesn’t suspend Niklas Kronwall for his hit on Nikita Kucherov in Game 6, it might as well find a nice, warm beach somewhere to spend the rest of the playoffs.

Because if Kronwall does not sit out at least Game 7 of the Lightning-Red Wings series, the NHL will have officially confirmed what much of the first round has already proved, that it has no intention of suspending anyone for anything in this year’s playoffs. Read more

Despite anger over Tom Wilson hit, expect Islanders to stick to hockey tonight

Lubomir Visnovsky (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On the day off between Games 4 and 5 of the first round series between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, the Islanders managed to get a few things off their chest concerning the Tom Wilson hit on Lubomir Visnovsky. It was all probably quite therapeutic for them.

Kyle Okposo referred to Wilson as “an idiot.” The Islanders were unanimous in their assertion that it was a dirty play and Islanders captain John Tavares called it, “a complete target of a defenseless player.” Considering the effects of the hit – Visnovsky is out indefinitely and with his history with concussions, it’s not a stretch to suggest it could be a very serious injury – you could understand why the Islanders were so incensed. Already dealing with the absence of Travis Hamonic on the blueline, the Islanders will lose a 38-year-old veteran with more than 800 NHL games in Visnovsky and replace him with a 20-year-old with zero NHL games in Ryan Pulock. Read more

NHL gets exactly what it wants in Montreal-Ottawa series – a gong show

P.K. Subban and Mark Stone  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Well, the old-time hockey guys in the NHL’s head office must be doubling over patting themselves on the back right about now. They’ve instantly created a gong show in the first-round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. And in a league that openly admits that it sells hate, it just got exactly what it wants.

No matter that its ludicrous decision not to suspend P.K. Subban for his two-handed slash to the hand of Mark Stone has suddenly hijacked this series. Between now and Friday night for Game 2, few people will be talking about how the Canadiens fourth line depth players, who had been dormant for much of the season, rescued them in Game 1. Fewer will be talking about how arguably the two best goaltenders in the NHL going into the playoffs, Carey Price and Andrew Hammond, have to be much better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. Read more

P.K. Subban’s slash: shock and awesome all in one

Subban2

One small whack in the playoffs, one giant gouge for playoff-kind.

P.K. Subban’s tomahawk to Mark Stone’s wrist ignited an inferno of what is so controversial and so awesome about the NHL playoffs. It was a microcosm of a hockey fan’s favorite two months of the season, all captured in a few moments of the second period of the first game of Round 1.

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Suspend him or not: David Backes cross-checks Mark Stuart’s neck

Matt Larkin
David Backes (Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

Winnipeg Jets fans, please sit down and take a deep breath. Have a sip of tea or beer. Chase it with a Xanax if need be. Bask in Tuesday night’s victory over the St. Louis Blues.

And try not to think about St. Louis captain David Backes’ cross-check on Jets D-man Mark Stuart. It probably reminds you a lot of the cross-check that earned Dustin Byfuglien a four-game suspension last week. But a few crucial differences likely have Backes escaping supplemental discipline.

First, let’s look at the GIF of Backes cross-checking Stuart:

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How suspensions happen: THN goes inside the NHL player safety war room

Matt Larkin
Department of player safety czar Stephane Quintal, front, oversees a night of games with a team including Patrick Burke, second from bottom. and Damian Echevarrieta, top right. (Photo by Matt Larkin)

It’s February 18, 2015. Montreal Canadiens center Lars Eller finds himself in a frighteningly familiar predicament. He speeds into Ottawa’s neutral zone, stretching out to receive a pass…and spots his old buddy, Senators D-man Eric Gryba, bearing down on him, forearms at chin height. Violent impact. And then–

Timeout.

Eller and Gryba freeze as their torsos separate. Remember what Zack Morris used to do on Saved by the Bell, locking everyone around him in tableau when he had a predicament to solve? That’s what’s happened here, but swap Bayside High for the NHL Department of Player Safety’s war room. Eller and Gryba stretch across four television screens, paused mid-game so the league’s experts can debate the collision’s legality.

Every set of eyes and ears perks up in the room, because everyone present knows the context. Gryba KO’d Eller with an illegal headshot in the 2013 playoffs, ending Eller’s season and earning Gryba a two-game suspension. Another run-in between the two lights up four criteria on the NHL’s no-no board: emotional narrative, potential for repeat offense, potential for injury and a potentially illegal hit. If Gryba has indeed caught Eller in the head again, Gryba has every strike against him and can hang up his skates for a while. Alas, a room-wide review reveals he hit Eller clean in the chest this time. Crisis averted. Game unpaused.

That moment encapsulates the busy life inside the war room, which screens every second of every game all season. The department, led by senior vice-president Stephane Quintal, vice-president Damian Echevarrieta and director Patrick Burke, has invited THN to the New York office for a full night’s slate of games. The mutual goal: improving the media’s understanding of exactly how the league doles out supplemental discipline. What is the chain of command? How does the league weigh prior history and injuries? And, most importantly, are its decisions as “inconsistent” as the keyboard warriors claim?

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