With Ottawa’s Tommy Wingels delivering a violent forearm to the head of Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson with less than 15 seconds left in game 5, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety finally has an out.
The time of the incident and the score are absolutely vital to the case for suspension, and it all boils down to a decision made by Player Safety way back in Round 1.
When Matt Calvert of the Columbus Blue Jackets (remember when they made the playoffs?) was suspended for just 1 game for his head shot to Penguin Tom Kuhnackl, the suspension was largely for the message sending component. It was in the last minute of a 4-1 Jackets loss.
Since then, many a head shot has gone ignored in these playoffs because there’s no way any of them could possibly draw a suspension without occurring in a blowout. Adding the message sending tag made a clear statement the hit to the head wasn’t the problem alone. It was that it happened when it did. The hit to the head parade was officially on.
That’s why I said all we could do is wait and see how many innocent victims there would be before the playoffs were finally over and the suspension standard could be reset. Unfortunately, that number is pretty high already.
Matt Niskanen of the Washington Capitals came the closest to bucking the no-suspension trend when he famously cross checked Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in the head, sidelining the franchise player for Game 4 of that second round series.
There was a lot of debate in that case though. No matter how you feel about any other play this playoffs, here with Wingels we have an indisputable, direct, intentional shot to the head. The arm is the only thing throwing the hit, and it’s held too high to be innocent. Even if he wasn’t really trying to hit Wilson in the head, there’s no way what he did could have possibly resulted in anything other than head contact. It’s as open and shut as they come.
While even that might not be enough to draw the attention of the NHL, the score at the time has to. At 7-0 for Pittsburgh with 15 seconds left, the hit had no implication on this game.
They have to look at it as message sending for the future. That’s the key.
With precedent set from the Calvert suspension, it’s the only chance for the Department Of Player Safety to do anything, and they might never get it again this year. If this isn’t 1 game, mark my word that someone will be seriously hospitalized before the Cup is raised.