How recent history compares to Draisaitl hit, no-suspension decision

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice washes his hands clean of any discourse around Leon Draisaitl's hit on Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov and is confident in whatever decision the NHL makes after reviewing the hit.

Winless through the first two games of their first Stanley Cup Final in nearly two decades, the Edmonton Oilers find themselves mired in an uphill trek, searching for a path back to even ground against the Florida Panthers. And for a moment there, it seemed like the climb was set to get even more steep, the club nearly suffering a devastating blow ahead of a must-win Game 3.

The Oilers faithful found themselves holding their collective breath in the wake of Game 2, as questions arose post-game as to whether forward Leon Draisaitl — unequivocally the second-most crucial Oiler on the roster, and a key cog in the team’s offensive machine — had earned himself a suspension.

At issue was a sequence that came midway through the third period of Monday’s tilt, with Edmonton trailing 2-1, trying to claw their way back. Flying down the right wall in the Panthers’ zone, Draisaitl closed in on Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov — whose head was down as he fished for the puck — and launched upwards, the Oilers forward’s elbow connecting with the Finn’s head. The Panthers pivot dropped to the ice and remained down for some time as chaos ensued between the two teams.

[brightcove videoID=6354777809112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Barkov didn’t return for the final half of the third period. His head coach later made clear that his absence was more than precautionary.

“There was 9:28 on the clock, I believe, in a 2-1 game,” Florida head coach Paul Maurice said after the dust settled on a 4-1 win for the Cats. “I wasn’t holding him back.”

The fate of both star scorers is crucial ahead of what could be a key turning point in the series. A Florida win next time out would give the Panthers a 3-0 stranglehold on the Final, putting the Oilers on the ropes and requiring a near-historic comeback — four straight wins — to lift the trophy. An Oilers win would give Edmonton some life in the matchup, and set them on track to potentially even the series by the time it shifts back south.

On Tuesday, Sportsnet confirmed that Draisaitl won’t face supplemental discipline for the hit on Barkov.

All eyes now turn to Florida, and the question of whether they’ll have to take the ice in Game 3 without their captain, should an injury keep him sidelined. Maurice said Tuesday that Barkov had progressed since Monday night, but that it was too early to say whether he will travel with the team to Edmonton.

“He came in today, and he wasn’t worse, so that’s a really good thing,” Maurice said of his captain. “The real assessment will be tomorrow, but if he continues to progress, we should be in good shape. … He left (the game). We had some things that needed to get looked at today — they got looked at, so there’s nothing sinister there. So we’re kind of past that. He felt better today, feels good.

“But you’ve got to give it, then, another 24 hours to make sure that he’s still feeling strong and effective. And if he continues to progress, then we think he’ll be a player for us.”

Should Barkov miss any time in the series, the lack of further discipline for Draisaitl would be a difficult pill to swallow for Panthers fans.

There’s little question the Oilers star’s decision warranted an extra look from the league’s Department of Player Safety. That said, whether it truly deserved more than what was given on the ice — a roughing minor at a crucial time, stymieing the Oilers’ comeback effort — is more complicated, particularly given the weight of a post-season suspension as opposed to missing time during an 82-game regular season.

Look back over the past couple decades of playoff hockey, and only a few plays that have come amid the consistently physical grind of the Stanley Cup Final have earned supplemental discipline:

2019 Cup Final: Blues’ Sundqvist, Barbashev each suspended for one game

In the league’s most recent history, only two players earned suspensions during a Cup Final, and both came in the same year, from the same squad.

St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist found himself sidelined by the league for one game after taking down Boston Bruins defender Matt Grzelcyk with a stiff headshot in Game 2 of their series in 2019. The sequence came late in the opening period of the tilt, the teams tied at 2-2, Sundqvist closing in on Grzelcyk behind Boston’s net and leaving his feet to plaster him against the boards, the forward’s shoulder connecting squarely with Grzelcyk’s head. The defenceman missed the next four games before returning for Game 7, while Sundqvist served his one-game suspension and returned for Game 4. 

[brightcove videoID=6042506465001 playerID=2540680026001 height=360 width=640]

One game after that, Blues forward Ivan Barbashev found himself in the same position. The forward was handed a one-game suspension after a Game 5 sequence that again came early in the tilt, with the two teams tied. Boston’s Marcus Johansson was on the receiving end of the check, the forward looping through the right circle in St. Louis’s zone, before getting caught with a check to the head as Barbashev flew by him in the opposite direction. The contact sent Johansson spinning to the ice. No penalty was called on the play, and Johansson remained in the game, suiting up for the next two as well.

[brightcove videoID=6045735876001 playerID=2540680026001 height=360 width=640]

While there was no significant injury on the latter play, in explaining the reasoning for the one-game suspension handed down to Barbashev, a video from the league stated that “Barbashev delivere[d] a high, forceful hit that makes Johansson’s head the main point of contact, on a hit where such head contact was avoidable. This is an illegal check to the head.”

2011 Cup Final: Canucks’ Rome suspended for remainder of Final

A more extreme example came back in 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks were in their own Cup Final battle with the Bruins. 

The play in question came five minutes into Game 3, with the two teams tied, and Vancouver having taken the first two games of the series. Bruins forward Nathan Horton collected the puck in the neutral zone and dished it to a teammate streaking down the left wing as Boston pressed into Vancouver’s zone. Before Horton crossed the blue line, Canucks defender Aaron Rome launched forward, left his feet, and caught Horton with a late, high check, his shoulder connecting squarely with Horton’s head.

The Bruins forward remained down on the ice for a lengthy spell, clearly dazed, before being removed from the game on a stretcher. Horton was diagnosed with a severe concussion, and forced to miss the remainder of the Final. Rome was handed a four-game suspension that kept him out of the rest of the series as well, as Boston came back to take the series and lift the Cup. 

Looking back through those three sequences, none align too closely with Draisaitl’s check: the Sundqvist hit similarly involved a play along the boards, but arguably with the player checked being in a more vulnerable position, while the Barbashev and Rome plays occurred in open ice. That said, the reasoning given for Barbashev’s suspension could have applied to Draisaitl as well.

The injury status of the checked player is a factor, too. And again, it was different in all three situations — Grzelcyk missed numerous games after the Sundqvist hit, while Johansson missed none, and in Rome’s case, the defender was handed a suspension that removed him from the series altogether, as it became clear Horton would be out of the series, too.

Conference Finals Suspensions

Rewind through all the instances of heavy, physical play during the Cup Final matchups of years past, and there seems a clear reluctance to hand out suspensions this late into the playoffs unless undeniably warranted, with the weight of these latter-round games so immense. Widen the net to the Conference Finals and you find a longer list of situations to consider, more suspensions having been handed down during the post-season’s third round, with the stakes still plenty high.

Since Rome’s suspension in 2011, the league has doled out nine suspensions during the Conference Final. Five of those have been one-game bans — meaning over the recent slate of post-season discipline, seven of 12 bans handed down in the final two rounds of the playoffs were for a single game, including those three Cup Final suspensions.

The most recent late-round suspension bucked that trend, though, as Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was suspended two games just last year for a cross-check on Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone during the 2023 Western Conference Final. Before that, it was Edmonton’s Evander Kane in 2021, earning a one-game suspension for boarding then-Colorado Avalanche centre Nazem Kadri in the Western Conference Final. 

[brightcove videoID=6307306625112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

A year prior, Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn was given a one-game ban himself after boarding the New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson — the Killorn play bears some resemblance to the Draisaitl sequence, but again saw Killorn tag Nelson while the latter was in a more vulnerable position.

The 2014 Eastern Conference Final saw three players suspended over the course of the series, two of those extending into the Cup Final. 

In Game 3, the Rangers’ Daniel Carcillo earned a rare 10-game ban for Physical Abuse of Officials after elbowing linesman Scott Driscoll while being escorted to the box — the ban took Carcillo out of the lineup for the subsequent Cup Final. Brandon Prust earned his own suspension in that same Game 3, the Montreal Canadiens forward catching New York’s Derek Stepan with an open-ice hit that had shades of the Rome-Horton collision — the play resulted in a two-game ban that kept Prust out of Games 4 and 5. The next game, New York’s John Moore earned a similar suspension for a similar play, the Rangers defender catching Montreal’s Dale Weise up high in the neutral zone — the ban kept Moore out of the lineup for the final game of the series, and Game 1 of the Cup Final.

[brightcove videoID=6189287596001 playerID=2540680026001 height=360 width=640]

In 2013, Chicago’s Duncan Keith earned a one-game ban for high-sticking L.A.’s Jeff Carter. And one year before that, the Rangers and Coyotes each had a player banned for a game during their respective Conference Finals series: Prust earned another during his time with the Rangers, sticking out an elbow and catching New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov in the back of the head, while the Coyotes’ Martin Hanzal earned his suspension for boarding the Kings’ Dustin Brown.

Review the film and look back through each of the sequences and you could muster up arguments for and against a Draisaitl suspension, but it’s hardly a clear-cut case.

Others have been banned at least a game for connecting with an opponent’s head, as Draisaitl appeared to do when he caught Barkov up high with his elbow. On the other hand, all of the comparable plays above that earned suspensions this late into the playoffs appeared to include more significant contact, occurring either in open ice or, if they were along the boards, including a hit from behind with the checked player in a more vulnerable position than Barkov seemed to be.

It appears the league’s Department of Player Safety felt the Oilers forward’s hit wasn’t dangerous enough to warrant any further discipline. Now, the Panthers turn their attention to Barkov’s status, awaiting news on just how impactful the hit truly was.

The two teams return to the ice Thursday night in Edmonton for Game 3.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.