The fallout of yesterday’s afternoon matinee between the Sabres and Avalanche in Colorado is a prime example of how much of a joke NHL Player Safety is.
Buffalo’s Jack Eichel has a hearing with Player Safety today after he shouldered Colorado’s Carl Soderberg in the face during the second period Saturday, he was penalized for an illegal check to the head. The hit was dirty and if the NHL suspends Eichel, it would be understandable. What is not understandable, however, is why a Colorado player isn’t facing possible discipline as well. Eichel didn’t throw the first punch in this one, actually he was on the receiving end of it.
Late in the first period, Eichel took the puck through center ice and entered the Colorado zone along the right-wing boards. Sam Reinhart entered the zone on the left side too quickly and made the play offside, but it took the linesman a whole two seconds to blow the play dead. After the whistle finally went, Avalanche defenseman and former Sabre Nikita Zadrov came across and plastered Eichel into the boards, knocking the captain’s helmet off.
The hit was dirty not only because it was very late, but also because Zadorov brought his arms up and hit Eichel high. Traded to Colorado by the Sabres mere moments after they drafted Eichel in 2015, Zadorov received a roughing penalty in ensuing donnybrook but was not penalized for the hit itself. Eichel was very upset over it and let an expletive fly when addressing the media after the Avs won 3-0.
“He hits me after they (bleeping), excuse my language, blow the whistle,” Eichel said. “That’s whatever.”
In departure from history, Buffalo’s response to its golden goose getting whacked was fiery. Reinhart and 5’11 Jeff Skinner immediately charged the Russian and had to be fought off by other Avalanche players while Marco Scandella managed to get his hands on the culprit and took him to the ice. Casey Nelson didn’t even drop his stick though, and that was disheartening. I like Nelson and want to see the Sabres keep him, but that disappointed me and I’m sure many others as well. It was refreshing to at least see the Sabres stand up for one of their players, especially after Rasmus Dahlin got bowled over by Philly’s Ryan Hartman a few weeks ago and nobody but Zach Bogosian seemed to notice.
I’m not surprised that Zadorov was once again the center of a controversial play. The defenseman has turned into one of the NHL’s more underrated cheapshot artists since coming to Denver and he has developed a reputation as a dirty hitter. Some Colorado fans are condoning Zadorov’s actions and choosing to focus solely on Eichel, and I’m sure some Sabres fans are doing vice-versa, but both players are guilty, it’s tough to deny that. The only difference is that Eichel is not know for plays such as this, Zadorov is.
Dirty plays such as both of these shouldn’t be in the game. I don’t condone Eichel’s actions but I understand them, it was retaliatory. It doesn’t make his hit any less dirty, but in the captain’s defense, he wouldn’t have hit Soderberg had Zadorov not started it all. The NHL has made it known that Eichel is facing suspension, but there has been no word that Zadorov is too, and that’s what is problematic. Both plays were dirty and both players should be suspended, but right now it appears that only one is going to be.
This is not surprising though. NHL Player Safety is often criticized for not punishing players despite blatantly dirty acts. The League did not suspend Flyers D Radko Gudas after he (literally) jumped into New Jersey’s Kyle Palmeri last season and decided to only fine Edmonton’s Milan Lucic earlier this season after he mugged Tampa Bay rookie Mathieu Joseph in November, and these are just recent examples. The Department sets out to protect players from malicious acts, but largely fails to, and it will again in this case.
Buffalo itself is fully expecting Eichel to be suspended, as evidenced by the recall of Alexander Nylander from Rochester today. Nylander will take Eichel’s spot when the decision is announced and will likely play on Tuesday against the Stars.
Does the NHL really want to crack down and dirty plays and hits to the noggin? Or is it just trying to show that it’s not afraid to punish high profile players like Eichel and his draft counterpart Connor McDavid? Just to reaffirm that I’m not biased, Eichel deserves to be suspended for his hit, but Zadorov does as well, but it looks as if that it won’t even be considered. That’s why NHL Player Safety is a joke.