Wayne Simmonds (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Wayne Simmonds somehow escaped supplementary discipline for punching an opponent in the head and concussing him as well as throwing his stick across the ice. And Ryan McDonagh got away with a nasty crosscheck.
What happens to an attempt to injure match penalty when the attempt to injure is actually successful? Well, not much if you’re talking about the NHL, which ignores and justifies suspendable acts with mind-boggling regularity.
Take the Wayne Simmonds sucker punch on Ryan McDonagh Saturday afternoon, for example. In another decision that makes the Department of Player Safety the most spectacular oxymoron since jumbo shrimp, Simmonds skated away with nothing more than a game misconduct for sucker punching McDonagh of the New York Rangers in the head. And McDonagh got away with a double minor for a stick offense that was gratuitous and unnecessary. Give the NHL credit, at least it manages to baffle, confuse and infuriate everyone with its decisions.
Simmonds was back in action for the Flyers 24 hours later. McDonagh has a concussion, you know, like a brain injury, and the Rangers best defenseman will be out of the lineup for at least for Monday night when they host the New Jersey Devils. Beyond that, nobody knows how long McDonagh will be out, but it’s not as though the NHL can undo its decision to let Simmonds go scot-free if McDonagh is out long-term.
McDonagh does not come out looking like an innocent victim in all of this, either. The reason Simmonds presumably went after McDonagh the way he did was because of a crosscheck to Simmonds’ head area seconds before. McDonagh received high-stickign and slashing minors for that one, but you could argue that stick work that vicious and predatory rises to the level of supplementary discipline, too.
It boggles the mind how this league can, in this day and age, continue to treat both real and potential head injuries so cavalierly. The McDonagh crosscheck was a nasty piece of work that was potentially dangerous and extremely reckless. The Simmonds punch was worse, given that there was no way Simmonds could have known at the time that McDonagh was going to get off so lightly. He must have just been taking his best guess and was right. Vigilante justice, there’s nothing like it.
There seems to be this notion that a punch with a gloved hand is less serious than one when the glove is off. At least that’s what the vast majority of commenters pointed out when your trusty correspondent expressed disbelief at the flimsy one-game suspension handed to Milan Lucic of the Los Angeles Kings for his sucker punch on Arizona Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton.
But really, when it comes to head injuries, does it really make a difference? The injury in a concussion comes from the brain sloshing around and being bruised when it hits the skull, so it really doesn’t matter if the glove is off or not. In fact, you could probably argue that a player with his glove on is going to punch with more impact than a guy would with his bare hand because there’s no fear of injury to his hand.
Simmonds punched McDonagh and gave him a brain injury. There is absolutely no way of getting around that inconvenient fact. And he missed exactly 49 minutes and 24 seconds of hockey after doing it. At least when Lucic drilled Connauton, the league pointed out that Connauton, “had no reason to believe a punch may be thrown by Lucic,” and, “had no way to defend himself in any manner.”
But if you look at the Simmonds-McDonagh confrontation, there’s not much McDonagh could have done either to prevent himself from being sucker punched. After the crosscheck, he and Simmonds had a brief exchange that didn’t even approach the level of a fight. Neither player removed his gloves, nor did there appear to be any level of consent on McDonagh’s part.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was livid about the decision, not only over the sucker punch, but the league’s decision to not further discipline Simmonds for breaking his stick and throwing it across the ice after learning of his match penalty.
“What I didn't expect was the reaction from the league,” Vigneault said. “All-star player gets sucker-punched, goes down…I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences?”
Well, we have a pretty good idea of what happens. Back in November, Brandon Dubinsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets received a one-game suspension for crosschecking Crosby in the back of the head, but not before he stayed in the game and set up the overtime winner.
But hey, this is the NHL, where men and men. If you take this stuff out of the league, you turn it into figure skating. Carry on, then.