DETROIT – The NHL Department of Player Safety is always in a spot where they’re not going to make everybody happy with their decisions. So, in that vein, it’s difficult to imagine that Bruins fans would embrace a two-game suspension for Jeremy Lauzon that was handed out on Sunday afternoon.
Clearly, the 22-year-old Lauzon had some supplemental discipline coming his way after a punishing check to Derek Stepan’s head in the Saturday win over the Arizona Coyotes. It's the kind of hit that the NHL is trying to get out of the league.
But there were so many mitigating circumstances to the hit that were seemingly working in his favor whether it was Lauzon’s first time being in trouble with the league, the lack of injury to Stepan on the play or the fact that Lauzon had already missed most of the Saturday game with a match penalty.
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There was some notion that Lauzon might simply get off with a one-game suspension because of all that. But the simple truth is that these days the NHL is giving out a bare minimum of two-game suspensions on headshots with no injuries sustained.
The league no longer considers time served when calculating a suspension and instead just takes a hard stance against the kind of plays that typically cause concussions.
Bruce Cassidy was still at a loss to explain exactly what was behind the suspension when asked about it following Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit that had the Bruins scrambling a bit without Lauzon.
“Like I said yesterday, I thought they were similar hits,” said Bruce Cassidy. “One goes for a match penalty and the other is two minutes. Brad Meier was the one that called both, so only he can answer how he saw them. He’s been in the league a long time, so I assume he’s got a good grasp on those things. I thought [the hit] was high on Charlie and we were fortunate he wasn’t concussed. And the same with [Derek] Stepan because he came back to play and both players are healthy.”
That’s fine if that’s what the NHL is going to do across the board, but the inconsistency is maddening when a similar play from the very same game goes without the same penalty. During the game, Lawson Crouse crushed Charlie McAvoy in the corner with a hit targeted at the Bruins defenseman’s head, and it could easily be viewed as a retribution hit as it arrived early in the second period in answer to the Lauzon headshot on Stepan.
Instead, Crouse was given a two-minute minor penalty during the game and there was no corresponding supplemental discipline for the Arizona Coyotes forward. Given the motives behind the hit and the fact it was a hit targeted at one the NHL’s young stars in McAvoy, it’s mind-blowing that the NHL’s on-ice officials and their player safety department both glossed over the offending action.
Isn’t a player like McAvoy exactly the kind of young player that the NHL wants to keep healthy and performing while discouraging opponents from taking cheap shots at them?
If the league is able to make an example out of a young, physical defenseman in Lauzon that clearly made a mistake without bad intent, then they should do the same thing with a physical player on the edge like Crouse that was up to no good when he clocked McAvoy. Particularly with a player like McAvoy, that basically missed the first half of last season dealing with the aftermath of concussion issues.
It’s that simple and the striking contrast between two similar headshots from the same game being treated differently to an incredible extreme is not a good look.
Instead, it uncovers the kind of inconsistency that the NHL Department of Player Safety was created to eradicate in the first place, and that feels like a problem when the league’s young stars aren’t being protected the way they should.