ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Garnet Hathaway spit on Erik Gudbranson, he knew immediately that he had made a mistake and quickly owned up to it after the game. Did he or Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan think it would be as costly as a three-game suspension? No, definitely not.

“It feels extreme,” MacLellan said Tuesday, “But I think they want to eliminate that behavior in the games and in the league so they made a stance that was pretty strong, sent a message to us and the league.”

A three-game suspension seems particularly harsh after the news Monday that St. Louis Blues forward Robert Bortuzzo had been suspended four games for a cross-check to Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson. Bortuzzo cross-checked him into the net, saw he was getting a penalty, then turned and cross-checked Arvidsson again in the unprotected area of the lower back.

Gudbranson got spit on, but Arvidsson is now out four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury he suffered from the hit. One play was worth a three-game suspension, the other a four.

MacLellan expressed mild frustration, but did note there were several differences that made the two situations a false comparison.

“I guess in some sense it's a little frustrating, but it's also two different types of incidents,” MacLellan said. “One, you're dealing with Department of Player Safety and the other one's Hockey Ops at the NHL level. I think there's different standards that are used and I think it's in a unique situation where spitting, I don't know there's a precedent exactly like that and so I think the league is trying to set an example of here's how we feel about spitting in an NHL game.”


As MacLellan noted, Hathaway was not suspended by the Department of Player Safety. While Bortuzzo was suspended by the DoPS, Hathaway’s situation went to the NHL's Hockey Operations Department because he received a match penalty. His three-game suspension came from Hockey Ops so comparing the length of the two suspensions is not exactly apples to apples. Two different departments with two different sets of standards reached those respective rulings.

Hathaway’s situation is also much more unique. While cross-checking, bad hits and injuries are an unfortunate reality of hockey, spitting is not common and the league wanted to make sure it did not become so.

MacLellan understood the reasoning, but wished it wasn’t his player who got the book thrown at him.

“Unfortunately, we're caught being the example for that behavior.”