When the NHL decided to put on its big boy pants about hits to the head, the shot defenseman Andy Sutton of the Edmonton Oilers laid on Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night was exactly the type of hit the League decided had no place in its product any longer.
Hence, Andy Sutton was suspended for five games on Tuesday. From the NHL:
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Sutton will forfeit $57,432.45. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund. The incident occurred at 3:23 of the third period. Sutton was assessed a minor penalty for elbowing.
Sutton missed Sunday's game vs. St. Louis and will miss games Nov. 3 at Los Angeles, Nov. 5 at Phoenix, Nov. 8 at Montreal and Nov. 10 at Boston. He will be eligible to return Nov. 11 at Detroit.
Landeskog was turning to accept a pass. Sutton steamrolled through him, making contact principally with the head, to separate player from puck. Two years ago, there was no mechanism for this type of hit to result in a suspension: Mike Richards was given five minutes and a game misconduct for putting David Booth on a stretcher, but the NHL didn't suspend him for it.
Sutton received two minutes for elbowing on the Landeskog hit; now, because of the NHL's refined and specific rules on head shots, he gets the gate for five games.
Here's Brendan Shanahan, dropping the Shanahammer:
Evidently, he's an expert, having seen the replay.
Do you agree or disagree with this one?
Was the head targeted and the principal point of contact? Yes, and evidently so, given that Shanahan and his Department of Player Safety feels that a glancing blow off a shoulder doesn't trump a thump to the head.
Did Landeskog put himself in harm's way? The NHL said no, and again it's hard to argue this point. He was receiving a pass, and his head wasn't dramatically shifted from where it was when Sutton committed to the hit. Let the Malone/Campoli ruling be your precedent here. (That said: Good thing the onus is on the hitter, because it's not like Landeskog's teammate didn't lead him right into harm's way with that pass.)
Was there an injury on the play? No, and herein lies the most interesting debate. Sutton has prior suspensions and fines for dangerous hits. The NHL has defined this as a clear violation of their head-checking rules. Had Landeskog been Nathan Horton'd on this play, what does Sutton get? Eight? Ten? One still gets the sense that the NHL is willing to suspend to the injury in some cases, despite when the play itself might have been worthy of a longer ban by itself.
Again, if we're serious about getting this type of hit out of the NHL, and if we're serious about players not having to embellish injuries just to get the proper call, should this be more than five games?
I figured this might be in the 8-game Wisniewski range. Apparently the NHL disagreed.
UPDATE: Andy Sutton has released a statement through the Oilers:
"I have been informed of and understand the League's decision, however, I had no intention of delivering an illegal check. For 14 years, I've always played the game with respect and integrity and I will continue to do so when I return."