It is the most common thing anyone says when a player ends up unconscious, lying face down on the ice, waiting for a stretcher to carry him away:
“You never want to see that.”
His teammates say it, his opponents say it, and everyone else watching says it—especially when it’s the result of another player breaking a rule and showing complete disregard for the consequences of his actions, and especially when that player had the chance to avoid doing it but still chose to follow through.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety took a look at every angle of the hit Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele laid on Montreal Canadiens forward Jake Evans with 57 seconds remaining of Wednesday’s Game 1 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and made it clear they don’t want to see anything like it happen again.
On Thursday, after it was deemed Evans suffered a concussion on the play that saw Scheifele handed a five-minute major penalty for charging and a 10-minute game misconduct, the league ruled Scheifele would be suspended four games.
It may not seem like much, but it could be the end of Scheifele’s season, with the Jets trailing the Canadiens 1-0 in the series after Wednesday’s 5-3 loss. It’s also, in reviewing how the DOPS had ruled in prior playoffs, the equivalent of an eight-to-10 game suspension in the regular season; a big wallop to a player with an uncheckered past—Scheifele’s never so much as been fined in his 608-game career (playoffs included), let alone suspended, and he had 12 penalty minutes in 56 games this past season—that would’ve been even bigger had he been a repeat offender.
Scheifele also had a team-leading 63 points this season and has developed into a certified superstar in this league since debuting during the 2011-12 season.
Thankfully, he was treated like any other player would and should be for such a vicious and careless act that left a vulnerable player in an even more vulnerable position.
“Late in the game with Montreal ahead (4-3) and the Jets goalie pulled, the Canadiens dump the puck the length of the ice,” the DOPS explained in its video ruling. “Evans wins the race to the puck with Scheifele skating back hard through centre. Evans picks up the puck and quickly moves to wrap it into the empty Winnipeg net. After the puck enters the net, Scheifele, moving with excessive momentum gained from traveling a considerable distance, finishes his check violently and with unwarranted force into Evans, making significant head contact in the process and causing an injury.
“This is charging. It is important to note how charging is defined in the NHL rulebook. The relevant portion of the rule states, ‘charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check in an opponent in any manner.’
“It is also important to note that we have heard Scheifele’s argument that he gathers speed and maintains momentum in order to make a legitimate defensive play and attempt to prevent a goal from being scored.”
And this takes us to where the DOPS identifies the intent behind this play and captures a point that seemingly flew over the heads of everyone arguing this was a “clean hit,” including Jets coach Paul Maurice, who used that exact word to describe it on Thursday.
“As Evans comes around the net with the puck, Scheifele does not attempt to make a play on the puck with his stick,” DOPS continued. “Instead, he takes his one hand off his stick, turns his shoulder and loads up for contact. While players are not required to attempt to play the puck, on this play Scheifele’s choice to not make a play on the puck tells us that he’s conceding the empty-net goal.
“This is also not a mere collision between two players appearing to occupy the same space on the ice. Instead, it is apparent to our department that his intention on this play is to deliver a hard, violent check to an opponent with the outcome of both the play and the game already having been decided.”
They accurately referred to it as a “predatory hit that caused an injury.” It doesn’t matter that so many other people seemed to see it differently.
Still, there’s no justice for Evans. Even if Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said earlier in the day that “he’s doing better” under the close supervision of two team doctors, the speedy, versatile forward who turned 25 on Wednesday won’t be available to play for at least the next three games.
Ducharme said Evans will miss “a lot of time,” but is unsure how much. And he explained that Evans was emotional when he visited him.
Who wouldn’t be after such a traumatic incident, with his family, his girlfriend and his friends watching and seeing he wasn’t even able to celebrate his first-ever goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Who knows if the former seventh-round pick in 2014 even remembers it? Will he even want to watch a replay of it?
We’ve seen it enough times to never want to watch it again. And we’re hoping the suspension given to Scheifele will deter another player from taking a 190-foot run at an opponent and making a split-second decision that could lead to something even worse than a concussion.
Not to minimize what Evans has been through, but a hit like that could’ve killed him. Thankfully, he avoided a trip to the hospital, but this is his third documented concussion since September of 2018, and that is a horrible reality to consider.
“Any concussion—it can be a worry,” Ducharme said. “When it affects the brain, obviously (it’s concerning). You can have one, and it’s one too many. So, you never want to see that.”
Evans’ teammates were shocked and angered after watching it.
Defenceman Joel Edmundson, who was following the play up ice, said after the game of Scheifele, “If he gets back in the series, we’re going to make his life miserable.”
Ducharme came back on those comments Thursday, saying, “What Joel meant to say is we’ll be in his face and we’ll be hard on him, but within the rules.”
Edmundson’s partner, Jeff Petry, said the Canadiens would like to achieve three more wins before it even comes to that.
“Obviously, we all know what happened last night, and we all know the best way to get back at them for that is to win the series,” Petry said. “So, our focus is to make sure that we’re playing the right way, the way we’ve played the last (four) games and make them pay that way.”
Evans, who played a considerable role in helping the Canadiens close out the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 after falling behind 3-1 in the series, is likely to be replaced by Artturi Lehkonen, who’s also coming off a concussion, which was suffered in Game 3 against Toronto.
Though that’s not likely to be confirmed by Ducharme prior to Friday’s Game 2, the 25-year-old Finn has been cleared to return and is a natural fit in the spot Evans was occupying next to Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher.
“I think both those guys bring energy,” said Petry. “They’re in on the forecheck. Art’s a good PK guy, he’s a guy that we rely on on the PK, a guy that’s in on the forecheck and responsible defensively. So, a lot of similarities between him and Jake.”
The Jets may have a similar player to Scheifele in Pierre-Luc Dubois, but there’s no minimizing the loss of their top centre for the next four games. Even if Petry said they’ll approach them defensively as they would if Scheifele were playing, Winnipeg’s varied attack has been dealt a significant blow—especially with centre Paul Stastny too hurt to play Game 1 and questionable for Game 2.
There’s no doubt Scheifele regrets this. It was obvious as he was escorted off the ice and was caught peering back at the damage he had caused.
“I think his reaction immediately was knowing that he made a mistake, and it’s a bad hit,” said Canadiens forward Paul Byron. “I don’t think you consciously go in to hit a guy to hurt someone, but at the same time you have to own up to your actions. You’re responsible. It doesn’t matter if a guy’s in a vulnerable position or not; you control your actions, control what you do and how you finish your checks and, regardless of the regret, you need to own up to what you do and be responsible and take accountability for it.”