Alex Pietrangelo’s slash proves what we already know about the NHL’s Department of Player Safety

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
1 year ago
Spinning a wheel was used to curse the Vancouver Canucks into perpetual bad luck once. Now, the NHL uses it to decide every suspension or fine applied to any disciplinary situation.
But we all knew that.
Alex Pietrangelo’s vicious slash on Leon Draisaitl is just the latest evidence that the Department of Player Safety is a joke. With the punishment of a one-game suspension being doled out, the Vegas defenceman is now officially being punished the same as Darnell Nurse, who got his through instigation in the final minute. Yeah, because clearly these two deserve equal penalties.
This play is just such a non-hockey sequence. The game is over, the puck has left Draisaitl’s stick. There’s no attempt to make a play, and it’s clear as day that the only aim Pietrangelo had (besides Draisaitl’s wrists) was to hurt the leading scorer in the NHL playoffs. An axeman chop to the hands has no place in the game and would’ve been the prime example for the DoPS to actually, you know, protect the players.
Somehow this isn’t even the first example of DoPS letting the players down from the 2023 NHL playoffs. Take this play in the Carolina-New Jersey series, where Tomas Tatar is wildly out of control with his stick and decides to take a whack at the head of Sebastian Aho. This is how you end up with brain damage. But, DoPS felt that a $5,000 fine was perfectly suitable for this play.
There’s this one from the first round, where Jordan Eberle decides it’s perfectly safe and normal to hit Andrew Cogliano from behind in a very vulnerable position. I understand that you shouldn’t make decisions with the context of injury sustained because that sets a bad precedent, but in this case, a cervical spine fracture was lucky. Anything slightly off about this hit and we could have had a paralyzed Cogliano thanks to the mechanism of injury. No suspension though.
This is how you end up with Sam Bennett being able to slam Matthew Knies’ head to the ice in a wrestling move and get off scot-free. This is how you end up with a wild and unruly NHL that sees liberties taken against players that put them in danger. Yes, there’s going to be truculence and chippiness in this sport. It’s hockey, that’s not going away any time soon. But the balance has to be drawn when it comes to protecting their biggest assets, the players.
And that’s where the NHL and DoPS fail the players the most.
There is no standard, no consistency with punishments. The suspensions or fines that are levied seem unfitting for the infraction that was committed. Nurse being suspended for one game, fine, it’s cut and dry thanks to the rules. If there is something specifically indicating that a player will be suspended for a game because they instigated a fight in the last minute, then that’s just how it is. But then, you have to contextualize the Pietrangelo slash and give a fitting punishment according to the standard that has been set. A pre-mediated fight in a playoff series that just so happened to occur in the last minute of play should not receive the same penalty as a blatant attempt to injure.
The DoPS had always been a bit of a crapshoot, but ever since George Parros took over in 2017 it feels as if the issues have been magnified. Funnily enough, one of the focuses that he verbally said was to put an emphasis on slashing. Funny, that.
But because there is no benchmark that is being set, we end up with a postseason that has seen a myriad of ugly plays like this one. It’s bad for the sport, bad for the league, and most of all bad for the players. For a department that should care the most about the latter, it’s a disgrace that we’ve seen as many dangerous situations happen in just these playoffs alone. This isn’t even getting into the problems that have been ongoing throughout the last couple of seasons with discipline. As a result, this suspension only serves to further drive home the point that everyone already knew.
The DoPS is a joke.

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