Maple Leafs' Jason Spezza suspended six games for kneeing Jets' Neal Pionk

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza (19) skates during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza has been suspended six games for kneeing Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk, the NHL's Department of Player Safety announced Tuesday.

The incident occurred Sunday during a chaotic game between the two teams, when Spezza's knee hit Pionk in the head while the Jets defender was diving to chase a puck. Pionk was later placed in the NHL's concussion protocol and will not be travelling with the Jets on their upcoming road trip.

"(Spezza) delivered a reckless and retaliatory knee to the head of (Pionk), causing an injury," the narrator on the Department of Player Safety video says.

Spezza was seemingly retaliating against Pionk, who shortly before had injured Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin with a knee-on-knee hit. Pionk was suspended two games for the hit on Sandin.

The narrator says prior events in a game are taken into consideration and that Spezza did acknowledge the player he was checking was Pionk.

Spezza had an in-person hearing Tuesday, which gave the NHL's Department of Player Safety the option to suspend him more than five games.

The narrator says Spezza and the Leafs argued the play was not kneeing, and that he would have been able to deliver the check legally had Pionk not fallen to the ice after the Toronto forward already had committed to the hit.

The NHL did not agree with either argument.

"Ultimately while we believe that Spezza's long history of clean play supports his argument that he does not intentionally drive his knee into the head of Pionk, this is a play in which he is attempting to enact forceful retribution on a player who is in a vulnerable position," the narrator says. "The onus is on Spezza to ensure the hit is delivered legally."

The narrator says the fact Spezza has not been fined or suspended previously in his 1,203-game NHL career played into the league's decision on the length of the suspension.

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