Panthers’ Jokinen criticizes NHL over Barkov hit from Abdelkader

Is Justin Abdelkader in trouble? The Florida Panthers certain think he will be when he laid down a huge open ice hit that may have come into contact with Aleksander Barkov's head, leaving the Panthers forward staggering.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — One day later the Florida Panthers were still seething about the Justin Abdelkader hit that sidelined top centre Aleksander Barkov with an upper-body injury.

This time the frustration was directed at the NHL, with veteran forward Jussi Jokinen expressing frustration that the Detroit Red Wings forward wasn’t suspended by the league’s department of player safety.

“Obviously I need to be careful what I say, but I felt (former disciplinarian) Brendan Shanahan did a really good job when he was in charge,” Jokinen said after Tuesday’s 7-4 win in Buffalo. “You know, I just feel those hits (have) to be taken out of the game if you want to keep this game safe and we want to have our skill guys. The best players in the league, that’s what fans want to see.

“So those hits have to get out of the game.”

The play in question happened during the second period of Monday’s game at Joe Louis Arena, with Barkov hunched over while clearing the puck up the boards from the side of his own goal.

Abdelkader caught him hard with a shoulder to the chest on a bodycheck that extended up through the head.

Barkov went immediately to the dressing room and sat out Tuesday’s game against the Sabres.

Florida coach Gerard Gallant said it wasn’t clear how long the 20-year-old would be unavailable to play.

The NHL reviewed the incident and deemed it legal under rule 48.1 (ii), which states that contact with the head is allowed in cases where “the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.”

Jokinen did acknowledge that part of his frustration was due to the fact there was an injury to Barkov, a fellow Finn who has taken his game to another level this season and entered Monday with nine goals and 17 points in his last 17 games.

“That’s our best player, my good friend, so obviously maybe I’m looking at that situation a little bit differently,” said Jokinen. “Obviously talking to guys around the league and stuff like that, it’s just I feel that hit is a dangerous hit and it has to be suspended.

“I can see it’s a tough job for referees (Monday), I can see that happened so quickly – they have a tough job getting that call – but after seeing the replays and stuff like that I think the league has to do a better job.”

For his part, Gallant was much more diplomatic about the incident but made it clear he didn’t like the hit either.

What Jokinen wants to see is a tougher standard enforced on hits to the head, but for that to happen it would likely take the general managers changing the interpretation of Rule 48.

“There’s been too many hits like that haven’t been suspended,” said Jokinen. “I think that’s what fans want to like, they want to watch Barkov play, they want watch those guys play. I think the league has to do a better job taking those hits out of the game.”