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The NHL Department of Player Safety suspended the wrong crosscheck

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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Maybe we’re not quite done talking about this yet.
If you didn’t join us yesterday, we discussed the end-of-game incident between Connor McDavid, Nikita Zadorov, and Carson Soucy’s stick that resulted in McDavid being folded faster than Weird Al’s accordion. And we concluded, in both the text and the headline, that “Neither Carson Soucy nor Nikita Zadorov deserve supplemental discipline by the NHL DoPS’ own standard…but that doesn’t mean they won’t get some.”
Well, we’re going to declare ourselves correct on both counts.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a $5000 fine to Zadorov for his crosscheck, and Soucy was suspended for one game – Game 4 of Round Two – for his side of the sandwich. McDavid, whose petulant slash started the whole shebang, received no supplemental discipline.
We don’t need to go over the myriad reasons that these punishments, and especially the Soucy suspension, are unfair. We already covered that pretty thoroughly in the previous article. But at that time, we were more concerned with pointing out the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the DoPS, in that they’d already let several over, far more intentionally dangerous acts of violence go already this playoff series.
What we did not focus enough on in that writing was the far more intentionally dangerous act of violence from moments later in the very same playoff game that went largely unnoticed at the time.
In our defence, George Parros and the DoPS also seem to have missed this one. But head coach Rick Tocchet most certainly did not.
When asked about the McDavid incident, Tocchet smartly turned the attention to Zach Hyman’s retaliatory crosscheck to Zadorov’s face that occurred moments later. This crosscheck was not really picked up by the broadcast team, but is still clearly apparent on replays.
Tocchet also revealed that the crosscheck opened up a cut on Zadorov’s face that required stitches to close.
When Patrick Johnston of The Province asked the league about it, they confirmed that they review all cases of potential foul play, and thus had reviewed this one, too…
…and yet handed out no fine or suspension to Hyman, nor even ever mentioned his actions in any direct way. In fact, the only way in which the DoPS addressed Hyman’s crosscheck was accidentally, because in the video explaining Soucy’s suspension, the narrator says “This is crosschecking” right at the moment that Hyman’s stick connects with Zadorov’s jaw.
So, we can forget about all those other comparative incidents we listed in the previous article. We can ignore the fact that the last time an NHLers skated a considerable distance to deliver a retaliatory crosscheck to the face – Morgan Rielly – that player was suspended for five games.
We’ve got two crosschecks in one game that we can put head-to-head (literally, in this case). And we’ve also got the Department of Player Safety’s own list of suspendable factors, conveniently found in their Frequently Asked Questions section.
It states, quoting the CBA, that:
… In deciding on Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct, the following factors will be taken into account:
(a) The type of conduct involved: conduct in violation of League Playing Rules, and whether the conduct is intentional or reckless, and involves the use of excessive and unnecessary force. Players are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
(b) Injury to the opposing Player(s) involved in the incident.
(c) The status of the offender and, specifically, whether the Player has a history of being subject to Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct. Players who repeatedly violate League Playing Rules will be more severely punished for each new violation.
(d) The situation of the game in which the incident occurred, for example: late in the game, lopsided score, prior events in the game.
(e) Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.
Now let’s run through those one-by-one, comparing the Soucy crosscheck on McDavid (one game suspension) against the Hyman crosscheck on Zadorov (nary a whisper.)
  • “(a) The type of conduct involved: conduct in violation of League Playing Rules, and whether the conduct is intentional or reckless, and involves the use of excessive and unnecessary force.”
There’s little doubt here that either player violated the rules. Crosschecks are technically illegal, even though they’re allowed all the time, but there’s a clear threshold of severity that both Soucy and Hyman cleared.
The NHL’s own writing seems to hold recklessness and intent in equal regard, even if intent should reasonably be the larger factor at play. In any case, the crosschecks are evenly split here. Soucy’s actions were no doubt reckless. But the intent is in question. From all indications, Soucy’s crosscheck would have connected with McDavid’s chest had Zadorov not entered the picture and propelled McDavid forward and down.
There’s no question as to the intent behind Hyman’s actions. He came in with the stick raised high enough to cover the five inch gap in height between he and Zadorov, and that stick was aimed at Zadorov’s face the entire time.
From our perspective, intentionally crosschecking someone in the face should merit more punishment than recklessly doing so. But then, we’re not employed by the Department of Player Safety.
Excessive and unnecessary force is applicable to both actions. But we will note that only one of the crosschecks caused enough force to draw blood – stitchable blood, at that. Soucy’s certainly looked forceful, but looks can be deceiving. We’ll return to this on the next point, which is…
  • “(b) Injury to the opposing Player(s) involved in the incident.”
Ego and pride aside, McDavid did not seem to be injured on the play at all – and believe us when we say, if he were, we’d have heard about it by now.
He got up right away under his own steam. He showed no visible marks on his face. And there are zero doubts about his ability to play in Game 4.
Zadorov, on the other hand, was injured. Now, stitches aren’t anything that are going to keep him out of action. But they are an injury all the same, and they can’t help but to impact Zadorov’s play, at least to some extent. Let’s not pretend that the Oilers won’t be trying to pop those stitches at every post-whistle opportunity they can.
Two factors in, and we’ve got two factors that state pretty clearly that Hyman’s actions were more suspendable than Soucy’s. And the rest of the list is quick work.
  • “(c) The status of the offender and, specifically, whether the Player has a history of being subject to Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct. Players who repeatedly violate League Playing Rules will be more severely punished for each new violation.”
The DoPS noted that while Soucy had been suspended once before for a high hit on Conor Garland (how is every hit on Garland not a high hit?) and fined once for roughing Pierre-Luc Dubois, neither incident counted as relevant history, and did not deem him a repeat offender.
Hyman, meanwhile, was suspended two games for interference on Charlie McAvoy back in 2018. That’s not really relevant history, either.
  • “(d) The situation of the game in which the incident occurred, for example: late in the game, lopsided score, prior events in the game.”
Here, both sides come out even. The game had ended, so nothing here was a “hockey play.” Both were clear-cut retaliatory actions, Soucy’s for a slash by McDavid, and Hyman’s for Zadorov’s own crosscheck, which was itself also a retaliation for McDavid’s slash.
This is a factor tipping all of this action into suspendable territory, but it should be applied evenly to all parties involved, and perhaps most so to the player who had to skate a distance to become involved.
  • “(e) Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.”
Here, the league gives itself a little bit of weasel language, and in this case, they appear to have used it effectively.
Look, we all know that the only real “other factor” at play here is that one crosscheck was delivered to the ever-marketable Connor McDavid, and that the other was delivered to Nikita Zadorov, who would be plenty marketable if the league knew anything about marketing.
That’s really why Soucy was suspended and Hyman was not.
But in hiding behind a “process” that is ill-defined at first and then not even followed cleanly or consistency, the DoPS rightly opens themselves up for criticism.
By the letter of their own law, there’s no tangible, non-double-standard-related reason why Soucy would be suspended and Hyman would not. There’s especially no reason that Soucy’s crosscheck would result in a hearing, whereas Hyman’s would be completely and utterly ignored by Parros and Co.
And yet, nobody – not Tocchet, not Soucy, certainly not this author – will claim to be surprised at the outcome.
And doesn’t that say it all when it comes to the NHL and their Department of Player Safety.
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