Niklas Kronwall suspended for Game 7 vs. Lightning, as NHL gets it right

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Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall was suspended by the NHL for Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, as a result of dangerous hit on Nikita Kucherov in Monday night’s Game 6. 

Kronwall, one of the NHL’s most lethal checkers, had never been fined nor suspended in his 11-year career in Detroit.

The incident occurred at 18:55 of the second period, when Kronwall skated into Kucherov as the Lightning player was handling the puck. Kucherov was shaken up but not injured, and took regular shifts in the third period.

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The NHL said Kronwall “launched into a hit” on Kucherov, that “resulted in significant head contact.” At issue: That Kronwall took several strides before going “up and in” on his hit, and that’s the double-whammy of charging and an illegal hit to the head.

That’s fine. It’s a penalty that should have been called but wasn’t during the game. But this isn’t the Department of Missed Penalties. It’s the Department of Player Safety. So what, exactly, is happening on this hit or with this player to necessitate a suspension?

According to the NHL, it’s “the force with which the hit was delivered and the significant head contact that resulted from Kronwall launching into it” and that Kronwall “elevates unacceptably, with his skates off the ice prior to contact.”

The video then gives us a little “History of Kronwalling,” attempting to differentiate this hit from previous demolitions in the same area of the ice, like the one on Jakub Voracek in 2012. He goes airborne earlier on the Kucherov hit, and uses his forearm/elbow to hit Kucherov in the head.

As usual, the NHL Dept. of Player Safety does an effective job of explaining its mindset here. It’s clearly charging. It’s clearly an illegal check to the head. It’s clearly not the same type of hit that didn’t rise to the level of supplemental discipline for Kronwall, or any discipline at all.

This one deserved at least a game; the only quibble is that there was no injury on the play, and the NHL has slavishly adhered to that guideline in determining suspensions this season.

Bottom line: The Red Wings will be missing their leader in ice time (21:35 per game) and a vital special teams player for their most important game of the season on Wednesday night. 

But then this entire situation is one of bad timing ...

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