EDMONTON — When it comes to the Department of Player Safety, there is never much certainty. For fans and media, it has always been hockey’s great abyss — the place where logic goes to die.
This much, however, we are absolutely certain of:
If it were Connor McDavid on the other end of a clear check to the head from New York Islanders Nick Leddy, the Edmonton Oilers, their fans, and lovers of skill players everywhere would be screaming bloody murder.
So as DoPS sends out a Friday morning tweet stating “Edmonton’s Connor McDavid will have a hearing today for an Illegal Check to the Head on NY Islanders’ Nick Leddy,” our response really should be, “Yes, of course he will.”
At the time of the hit, at 17:38 of the first period, there was absolutely no disputing what had occurred. McDavid had his arm tucked tight to his body, did not thrust forward to make the hit any worse, and calmly skated through Leddy at a right angle. Perhaps Leddy slowed down a touch at the end, throwing the angle off — whatever.
It was a perfectly innocuous body check, as McDavid used his body to separate a player from the puck. But mistakenly (we’ll assume) he contacted only Leddy’s head. McDavid was issued a two-minute penalty for an illegal check to the head, and no one in the house disputed the accuracy of the call.
Not even McDavid in his post-game comments.
“Obviously it was not a great check, not what I was trying to do,” he said when asked about the hit. “I was just trying to finish my check. He stopped a little bit earlier than I thought and I maybe clipped him a little too high. That was obviously not the intent at all.”
That’s where everything becomes a little bit different, when a guy who on most nights is at risk of being the nail, suddenly becomes the hammer.
In McDavid’s career he has been called for 40 penalties — 39 minors, and one post-game Abuse of Officials misconduct for his “go upstairs” pointing gesture after scoring a shootout winner. In 267 NHL games he has received one roughing penalty, one elbowing penalty and two slashing penalties, the remainder a series of “puck play” penalties that any player would receive.
He has zero history, and had this been a serial headhunter like Tom Wilson — or Radko Gudas clubbing yet another player over the head — the minds of fans, reporters and commentators would have leaped directly to DoPS and the ensuing suspension. Twitter would have exploded, and as a reporter, the focus would have been crystal clear.
This hit did not cause any of that, and we’ll admit, from a reporting standpoint, it should have. Looking at the replays, it’s a clear-cut check to the head. No wiggle room. Working the game on Thursday, I missed the story.
But we weren’t alone in not identifying the importance of the play, as McDavid scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over the Islanders. In the Islanders’ room, not a word was spoken about the hit. Leddy played out the rest of the game and was interviewed post-game without referencing the hit, while Islanders coach Barry Trotz was dismissive when asked about the play.
“(Leddy) is bent over, takes a hit to the head,” Trotz said. “I’m not going to comment on it. If it warrants anything, they’ll look at it.”
It’s a fool’s game trying to predict what length of penalty the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will assess, but we’ll play it once again.
For starters, once again, McDavid has zero history. Also, we are not aware of a revenge motive — Leddy and McDavid had no in-game history here, where the Oilers captain was seeking retribution. Leddy was not injured and played a regular shift for the remainder of the game.
Still, a hit to the head occurred here, and as is appears Leddy did not make any sudden movements that changed a good hit into a bad one, it is McDavid’s responsibility to ensure that the hit he is throwing is legal.
Just because he’s an annual Art Ross contender, he doesn’t get a separate set of rules when it comes to a play like this. And don’t tell us, ‘Ya, but Radko Gudas just clubbed Nikita Kucherov over the head and only got two games.”
The worst mistake you can make with DoPS is tying one suspension to the next one. In their eyes, every hit is a separate entity, and every player has a separate history.
We suspect McDavid gets one game.
If we expect the next player who takes a run at a star player’s head to be punished, then McDavid can’t skate on this hit.