“What if that happened today?”
It’s a question we ask about so many things in NHL history, because the game has changed so dramatically in each era. But it’s an especially salient question when it comes to incidents of violence, because perhaps nothing has been transformed over the passage of time than the League’s, and society’s, reaction to deplorable (and regrettable) acts on the ice.
For example: The NHL, through its Department of Player Safety, factors the reputations of players into its suspensions. If you’re a role player and you injure a star through an illegal act, the hammer is going to drop harder on you. It’s just how it is.
So, with that in mind: What happens if Adam Graves slashed and broke Mario Lemieux’s left hand in 2013, rather than in the Patrick Division Final in 1992?
Watch this NBCSN NHL Rivals clip about this moment of infamy, as the Penguins visit the Rangers in the NBC Sports Network NHL Wednesday Night Rivalry game, with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. ET:
Graves was suspended four playoff games for the incident, which was more than the New York Rangers anticipated and less than the Pittsburgh Penguins desired. Brian O'Neill, NHL executive vice president, actually said the play wasn’t an intent to injure infraction, but was simply “reckless.”
As Phil Bourque said at the time, the Penguins weren’t happy with the trade-off:
"The frustrating thing is there's nothing we can do to even it out. You want revenge. You want an eye for an eye, as the old saying goes. And you want the league to do something about it. Our best revenge is to beat them in the series.
"No doubt, though, we're the ones who got punished," Bourque continued. ''We lost a player who can't be replaced for something that was very illegal. So you can throw fairness out the window in this case. A tainted series? That's a good way of putting it."
It was a series, however, that the Penguins would win in six games.
So what would have changed if the incident happened today?
First, Graves wouldn’t have played in Game 3 of the series, as he did in 1992. He would have been suspended pending a hearing, as is standard practice now for these types of incidents.
Would Graves have gotten four games? One imagines the deafening roar of protest after Mario was felled would have pushed this suspension into “rest of the series” territory for the NHL, like Raffi Torres last postseason. But while Graves played on the edge like Torres, he lacked his suspension history.
What do you think this incident would have cost Graves in 2013? Would have the suspension been larger, or would the NHL have erred on the side of a “hockey play gone bad” and gone shorter?