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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Argue with NHL player safety suspensions if you want, but blame team owners & players for soft punishments

Dustin Byfuglien (Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

The instant Dustin Byfuglien’s four-game suspension for a vicious cross-check on Rangers center J.T. Miller was announced late Thursday afternoon, hockey fans and some media types took to social media to vent anger and frustration over the brevity of it. And it wasn’t just Blueshirts supporters; in this era of heightened awareness of head injuries and their long-term effects on players’ post-career quality of life, an ever-increasing number of people agree that actions like Byfuglien’s are absolutely unacceptable and warrant a severe punishment that causes NHLers to think twice before doing something so reckless. They didn’t get that with a four-game ban.

Believe me, nobody agrees with those folks more than I do. However, there’s a group of fans out there who direct their wrath over the league’s consistently underwhelming suspensions at the NHL Department of Player Safety. Those people were out in full force in the wake of the Byfuglien verdict. And those people are wrong. You can disagree with the choices of chief disciplinarian Stephane Quintal or anyone in Player Safety, but attaching primary blame to him or his department is like faulting police for laws they enforce; if you want to effect change and put pressure on the appropriate parties for the long-established leniency of the league, you should look at the two groups chiefly responsible for soft punishments: the first is NHL team owners, and the second is the NHL Players’ Association. Read more

Suspend him or not: Flames’ Brandon Bollig boards Blues’ Barret Jackman

Adam Proteau
Blues center David Backes and Flames winger Brandon Bollig. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL’s playoff race is heating up, but the stream of questionable hits from behind is as steady as every – and Thursday night, Caglary left winger Brandon Bollig added another to the list when he boarded Barret Jackman as the Blues defenseman had his back to him.

There were approximately two minutes left in the first period in St. Louis when Bollig took a run at Jackman, who was protecting the puck along the boards. Pay close attention to Bollig leaving his feet and pushing up into Jackman, driving his head into the boards:

(video from SportsnetCanada)

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Byfuglien suspended four games — can the Jets make the playoffs without him?

Jared Clinton
Dustin Byfuglien (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

News came down this afternoon that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has suspended Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien for four games for his crosscheck to the head and neck area of New York Rangers center J.T. Miller. And while Miller thankfully escaped without serious injury, it appears Byfuglien might have put more of a hurt on his own team.

Make no mistake, Byfuglien earned every game of his suspension. But what a time for him to be heading to the sidelines because of a reckless play. With only five games remaining in their regular season, the Jets are attempting to lock down the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference while the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings seem determined to sneak ahead of Winnipeg for a chance to protect their crown.

Without Byfuglien, Winnipeg’s chances of hanging onto the final wild-card berth are hurt, but just how much? Read more

Suspend him or suspend him: Vancouver’s Alex Burrows ejected after head shot on Preds’ Paul Gaustad

Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa stands near Preds center Paul Gaustad, who had just been hit by Vancouver's Alex Burrows. (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Just about every NHL media person working today will tell you it’s easy and often unfair to judge players’ actions from the comforts of the press box or our living rooms. We always have to bear that in mind when we’re talking about supplemental discipline. The game moves faster than any sport not contested on wheels, and there are times when players will seriously injure an opponent with no malice intended.

Then there are NHLers who “just happen” to be involved with an annually-increasing number of borderline dirty incidents in the same way Jason Statham just happens to make essentially the same action movie time and again. Which brings me to Alex Burrows.

The Canucks’ agitator was back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons Tuesday after this blindside hit to the head of Predators center Paul Gaustad got him a five-minute major and an ejection from Vancouver’s game against Nashville: Read more