The NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s mission is to make hockey as safe as possible for players while preserving the physical, competitive nature of the game. It has not lived up to that mission during the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, and has become a complete joke because of its selective discipline.
While there have been many issues with the NHL’s DoPS so far in the postseason, for the purposes of this article I’ll solely be focusing on the Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings series because it contains the three most blatant examples of selective discipline so far.
After Game 1, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was suspended for one game due to a hit to the head of William Carrier. It was a questionable decision, since it appeared Doughty was trying to separate Carrier from the puck and the initial point of contact was shoulder-to-shoulder. Carrier even said it wasn’t a dirty hit. The DoPS saw it differently.
You be the judge:
Now, there was head contact, no question. But Carrier’s head was down, and Doughty initially hit his shoulder. Oh, and Carrier was fine and in the lineup for Game 2. I’m OK with a suspension for that hit only if you’re going to call everything else that closely. That hasn’t happened.
Doughty is arguably the best defenseman in the world, and putting him out for Game 2 is a significant advantage given to Vegas. Again, I’m fine with making that kind of decision, if the rest of the questionable actions in the series receive the same level of scrutiny. Spoiler alert: they haven’t.
In overtime of Game 2, Kings star center Anze Kopitar was in Vegas’ zone about to head back ice, when Golden Knights defenseman (and former King) Brayden McNabb got in his way and elbowed him in the face. It was clear, it was blatant and there was an official right there.
Watch, and focus on the left side of the screen at the beginning of the highlight:
Here’s a better angle:
No penalty was called and the DPS — which was so concerned about Doughty’s hit to Carrier’s head — didn’t even hold a hearing or consider any discipline. That’s a purposeful elbow to the head of an opponent, yet the NHL didn’t deem it worthy of a review?
Now we’ll go on to Game 3, where Kopitar was again targeted for a shot to the head. In this sequence, Kopitar took down Erik Haula in front of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and kept him down. It was the kind of borderline play that goes uncalled all the time during a hockey game. In response, Haula fired the butt end of his stick into Kopitar’s jaw.
I’ve heard Vegas fans complain that Kopitar flopped on the play, which is ludicrous. Kopitar is one of the toughest top-line players in the NHL, never dives and is a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner, which is given to the player who displays the best “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of play.” He’s not a flopper and never has been. He reacted like a guy who took the butt end of a stick to the face would react.
Butt-ending is one of the most obvious cheap shots you can dish out in hockey and it’s completely uncalled for. I’m gonna shock you here, but no penalty was called on the play — despite everyone in the arena seeing what happened — and the NHL has no disciplinary hearing scheduled for the incident.
Why? Those are two blatant cheap shots to the head on the Kings’ best player in the span of two games and they have gone completely unpunished.
I’m not the only one flabbergasted by the DoPS, as it’s become an epidemic around the league. If player safety is the department’s top concern, shouldn’t it be worried about head shots away from the play? Shouldn’t it send a message by at least fining those involved?
As of now, just three games into the postseason, the selective discipline the DoPS has employed has been absolutely ridiculous.