Alex Edler is typically a pretty sleepy defender. The big Swede can be an incredible hitter when the mood strikes, but he doesn't engage this part of his game all that often, and he's never been the type to put the body into a goalie.
That is, until Thursday. Chasing a puck behind the Phoenix Coyotes goal, Edler came up against netminder Mike Smith. Then he bowled him the heck over.
Smith finished the period, but he wasn't back in the Coyotes' net for the third period. Jason LaBarbera took over for the rest of the game.
As for Edler, since you're not allowed to do this, he was handed a five-minute major for charging. But will that be all, or will the Department of Player Safety tack on a little more?
It's been awhile since we saw a player suspended for contact with a goalie. There was Andrew Shaw on Mike Smith, who appears to be a magnet for player contact -- perhaps because he plays a lot of pucks -- and that earned a 3-gamer. That was a special one, as Shaw's intent was clear.
The last regular-season suspension was Jordin Tootoo's hit on Ryan Miller, which earned him a two-game ban. But that suspension came on the heels of Milan Lucic's even bigger hit on Ryan Miller, which earned no supplemental discipline at all.
You'll recall that the Lucic/Miller controversy led to a large debate over whether it was "open season" on goaltenders, and whether a goaltender was "fair game" when he came out from his crease to play a puck.
On that last point, the NHL is perfectly clear in the rulebook:
A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease area. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an opposing player makes unnecessary contact with a goalkeeper. However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the Referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.
Clearly, the officials didn't believe Edler made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact, which is why he got the major penalty.
But it's highly likely that Edler's five-minute major is as far as the punishment goes. Tootoo's suspension came because he left his feet for a head hit in the crease. In Edler's case, it was outside the blue paint, he was after a puck, and he didn't leave his feet.
I've seen arguments that he did, but a close look suggests that this is one of those instances where his skates came off the ice because of the contact, and not prior to it. Edler stood up, either with an intent towards getting past Smith or to brace himself for contact, but you can see fairly clearly on the replay that he doesn't do any of the sort of elevation that gets guys suspended.
That leaves this incident more in line with the Lucic hit that wasn't suspended: Penalty on the ice, goalie hurt, Shanahan saying the on-ice punishment covered it anyway.
“The minor penalty called on the ice was the correct call,” Shanahan said of that one, “And, while it’s unfortunate that Miller was hurt, I saw nothing egregious about this hit that would elevate it to supplemental discipline.”
I wouldn't be surprised to hear Shanahan echoing this explanation in the coming days.
I do expect Edler to get a hearing, however, just as Lucic did, because there's also a question of whether this hit was premeditated. It was the second time on the night that Smith had been involved in a collision with a Canuck. Earlier, Daniel Sedin had been taken down and slid into Smith, and in an effort to protect himself, Smith raised his glove and wound up punching Daniel right in the nose. Daniel left the ice bleeding.
Edler will be given a chance to explain himself. If the Department of Player Safety doesn't like what he has to say, or if they determine Edler was responding to the previous collision, that could certainly influence a decision on a suspension.