Player Safety – Your Bias is Showing

Last night in Pittsburgh’s 4 -1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, there were three stories. One Carter Hart loses for the first time in 8 games. Two Matt Murray puts on a clinic and steals the game for the Penguins and finally, the headline that would steal the night – Evgeni Malkin takes up playing baseball and takes a swing at Michael Raffl’s head. Take a look at the video below for a better look at the play.

As you can see Raffl gives Malkin a cross-check and then a punch to the back of the head, to which Malkin responds with a one-handed baseball swing directed at the head of Raffl. Malkin was assessed a match penalty and tossed from the game. Leaving the Penguins short-handed for the rest of the game.

Player Safety immediately stated there would be a phone call hearing. Meaning, less than a five-game suspension. Rules actually state otherwise though:

Match Penalty

Rules from the NHL state that the referees must hand their report over to the NHL Player Safety Department in order to help in determining a reasonable discipline. But a twitter post by the NHL Player Safety – shown below –  shows that less than 2 hours after the game Player Safety had made up their mind about a hearing and according to most reports a phone hearing – comes with either a fine or under 3 games most of the time.

The Rap Sheet:

Now Malkin doesn’t have the cleanest of records. In fact, he’s widely considered one of the more dirty players in the league.

Malkin’s Record:

  1. February 1st, 2008 – Malkin hits Chris Phillips from behind – No Suspension/Fine
  2. May 1st, 2008: Malkin slew foots Paul Mara twice in one sequence of play. No suspension/fine.
  3. March 21st, 2009: Malkin headshots Wayne Simmonds with 14 seconds left in the 3rd. Malkin is fined, and when questioned indicated that he promised the NHL he would not repeat that kind of hit. “I’m saying, ‘Not more,’ ” he said. “I play not the same.”
  4. January 16th, 2010: Malkin hits Willie Mitchell from behind, giving him a season/playoff-ending concussion. No suspension/fine.
  5. March 12th, 2012: Malkin hits Johnny Boychuk from behind, Boychuk would return later in the game. No suspension/fine.
  6. April 18th, 2012: Malkin blindside hits Nicolas Grossmann behind play, Grossmann missed the final two games of the first round with a concussion. No suspension/fine.
  7. April 20th, 2012: Malkin blindsides Sean Couturier the next game. No suspension/fine.
  8. January 31st , 2013: Malkin one hands Marc Staal in the head while scrumming behind the net. Very similar to the stick swing against Raffl. No suspension/fine.
  9. November 15th, 2014: Malkin blindsides Dan Girardi behind the net, Girardi would return later in the game. No suspension/fine.
  10. February 16th, 2017: Malkin gives Blake Wheeler a high hit, Wheeler would return to the game. No suspension/fine.
  11. November 18th, 2017: Malkin clips Crawford’s head after going for the puck. Not an inherently dirty playa reckless play. Crawford came back later that game, and would go on to miss portions of the 2017/18 season with vertigo symptoms.
  12. January 18th, 2018: Malkin uses his stick to sack Dustin Brown. Is fined $5,000 by the NHL
  13. November 7th, 2018: Malkin hits T.J. Oshie with a headshot, Oshie would return later during the game. No suspension/fine.
  14. February 11th, 2019: Most recently Malkin one handing Raffl with his stick. 1 Game suspension

Quite a rap sheet for a guy who is considered one of the most skilled players in the league. Today Malkin received a one-game suspension for swinging his stick viciously at Raffl’s head. Now Raffl did start the play with a pretty vicious cross-check and a punch to the back of the head. But it in no way warrants a baseball swing with a weapon – in this case a hockey stick – to the head.

The Comments:

Players Safety gave its reasoning for only handing down a one-game suspension to Malkin and it was as follows:

“The stick did not make contact with the face of Michael Raffl’s face and did not cause injury to the player.”

Ryan Johansen did the exact same thing as Malkin only difference was Johansen made contact to the face of the Winnipeg Jets player. Johansen was assessed a 2 game suspension and has nowhere near the rap sheet as Evgeni Malkin. The actions were identical both extremely dangerous and intentional.

Malkin even backed up his intent with his stick with a quote that actually mind-numbing.

“I didn’t hit him in the face,” Malkin said. “If I had touched him in the face, for sure, I would get suspended. It’s a high stick, but it’s not like I broke his face. I think I won’t get suspended.” (Josh Yohe, 2019)

“I’m not trying to hit his face… I know it’s dirty, but I missed, my stick (did) not touch his helmet or shoulder” Malkin said. “He just like dived and the referee give me five minutes. Nothing like dangerous, (he’s) not bleeding, nothing. I know I gave them a five-minute power play, but it’s my fault for sure. Play smart next time.” (Bardown, 2019)

Malkin seems to act as if he did nothing wrong because the stick never hit Raffl. These comments are worrisome because it seems to show Malkin’s mindset. That suspensions are only for hurt players, or players that have drawn blood. Not players that have the intention to hurt but just missed.

The NHL’s Decision/Superstar Bias

The decision here is kind of puzzling one on the NHL’s part. When everything is taken into account the evidence is pretty overwhelming against Malkin.

  1. The referees felt it was severe enough to offer a match penalty – which comes with an automatic hearing for a suspension or a fine.
  2. Player safety make a quick judgment – Determining a phone hearing over in-person – before seemingly receiving any reports from the Refs
  3. Malkin’s Rap Sheet
  4. The footage from Johansen who did identically what Malkin did and got a lengthier suspension
  5. Malkin’s Comments. Which prove his intent.

But there’s one more thing that plays into the decision. That would be the reluctance to suspend superstar players. If this was Tom Wilson, Ryan Johansen, Nazem Kadri, Max Domi, Mike Matheson, Paul Byron, Milan Lucic, Zach Hyman – all of who were suspended in the last 2 years – this decision would have been lengthier. Probably 3-5 game range.

Malkin’s Past history alone shows that the NHL refuses to suspend him. Heck, they won’t even take his money. Player Safety has once again shown by their own rulings and the evidence that was left, that they don’t really care about player safety. They serve the almighty dollar and if the player being possibly suspended is a money maker for them, you can bet they will find a way to make sure he is on the ice as soon as possible.

 

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