Aaron Ekblad. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
Franchise Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad was scratched from the lineup Monday, feeling the effects of a devastating Matt Hendricks hit Monday night.
It doesn't matter how piping hot the Florida Panthers are. Losing their Clydesdale sophomore defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, is a devastating blow. He was scratched from the Cats' lineup Monday night with an upper-body injury entering their game against the Vancouver Canucks.
A night earlier, Ekblad took this massive hit from behind from the Edmonton Oilers' Matt Hendricks. Another look, if you haven't seen it:
It's a vicious blow, with Ekblad's head smashing into the glass and taking the brunt of the impact. It's debatable as to how vulnerable he was considering he did appear to notice Hendricks approaching and turn his body. That said, Hendricks appeared to have plenty of time to minimize the impact of the collision, and Ekblad's back was turned for the entire play. The NHL Department of Player Safety has at least deemed the hit worthy of a phone hearing for Hendricks, which was scheduled for Monday. A decision on a suspension will happen by Tuesday at the latest, as his Edmonton Oilers play Tuesday.
The question is: how will Ekblad's injury affect Hendricks' punishment? It might and it might not. On one hand, an injury to a victimized player can lengthen a sentence if the league decides supplemental discipline is needed. On the other hand, (a) an injury doesn't guarantee supplemental discipline and (b) a phone hearing doesn't guarantee supplemental discipline. It's still possible Hendricks walks entirely. Much has been made of Hendricks' "thumbs up" after the hit, but it's considered circumstantial evidence at the moment and won't be factored in.
In the end, though, the hit itself appears to be illegal and worthy of a suspension. And that will indeed mean Ekblad's injury extends Hendricks' sentence. That's the educated guess here. (UPDATE: The NHL has suspended Hendricks three games for the hit.)
As for Ekblad, there's something broken here in the way his injury was handled. Per Sportsnet's John Shannon, Ekblad is in the league's concussion protocol. How, then, was Ekblad allowed to return to the game after the hit? Keep in mind that concussion spotters aren't necessarily to blame here. It's their job to report symptoms, and they have the ability to pull players from a game, but they don't have a say on putting a player back into a game. The spotters report symptoms but aren't medically trained to evaluate when players can return. That job belongs to team trainers and physicians.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin