Dustin Byfuglien (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Why did Dustin Byfuglien avoid supplemental discipline for his hit on Brendan Gallagher? It's all in the league rulebook and CBA.
The Dustin Byfuglien hit on Brendan Gallagher creates a nice opportunity for some education on player safety and how suspensions happen.
The social media assumption after Winnipeg's Byfuglien appeared to club Montreal's Gallagher with a high hit Sunday night was that Byfuglien had a lengthy ban from the NHL headed his way. After all, he'd been suspended four games late last season for a crosscheck to the head of New York Rangers center J.T. Miller. Another illegal check to the head would easily place Byfuglien under the repeat offender category according to the collective bargaining agreement and the Department of Player Safety.
The catch here, though, is that none of that history was relevant if Byfuglien's hit on Gallagher was deemed unworthy of supplemental discipline. And that's exactly what happened Tuesday after the league's hearing with Byfuglien. No one can explain the rationale better than the DOPS itself, so here's the video with player safety director Patrick Burke narrating:
The league is out to eliminate dangerous hits and especially those that target the head. In this case, however, Byfuglien's primary goal was beating Gallagher to the puck. Byfuglien then braced for contact, and the initial collision was between Byfuglien's hip and Gallagher's hand, not elbow and head. Byfuglien's elbow extended only on the follow through after and as a result of contact. That Byfuglien is 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds and Gallagher is 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds added to the dramatic effect of Gallagher spinning after the hit, making it look more vicious than it was.
The league decided Byfuglien was not targeting the head, nor was the head the primary point of contact. Byfuglien thus didn't violate rule 48.1, illegal check to the head. As soon as the league decides a player's action does not require supplemental discipline, that's it. Case closed. Any prior offenses or injury to the player on the receiving end become irrelevant. Those two criteria only affect sentencing.
Ottawa Senators fans may feel up in arms after seeing their team's top scorer, Mark Stone, suspended two games Monday. What gives?
What gives is that Stone delivered a direct blow to Landon Ferraro's head. Stone made Ferraro's head the main point of contact while initiating a hit after Ferraro had moved the puck. So Stone's clean track record doesn't help him at all here. He delivered an illegal blow, and the league deemed it worthy of supplemental discipline.
It's the inverse of Byfuglien's situation. Big Buff has the checkered history but, in the league's eyes, he did not deliver a hit worthy of supplemental discipline.
Another misconception to clear up here: the correlation between penalties and suspensions. As the DOPS heads explained to me last year when I visited their offices, they can suspend a player for a play that earned no penalty and they can choose not to suspend a player who did earn a penalty for a hit in question. So the minor penalty Byfuglien received for hitting Gallagher didn't qualify as a strike against him. The DOPS operates independently of the league's officials.
In the end, understanding the differences between hits like Byfuglien's and Stone's is a matter of education. Whether you love or hate the DOPS, it is nothing if not transparent about its processes. It's better for everyone the more we know.
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