On Friday night, in the final seconds of a 3-1 hockey game, Calgary Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson leveled Blue Jacket forward Patrik Laine with a dirty hit. The NHL has the opportunity to do the right thing by upholding Andersson’s suspension upon appeal.
Right off the bat, obviously, I’m a biased Blue Jackets fan. Let’s get that out of the way. Like fans of any team, I hate seeing any of our players injured, especially a star like Patrik Laine, and doubly so on a dirty play. Which, as an unbiased hockey observer, this absolutely was. If this were, say, Erik Gudbranson throwing this hit, I would still call it dirty.
If you weren’t tuning in to Friday’s game, or if you haven’t had a chance to see the replays of the hit, it was absolutely brutal. The Jackets had the game well in hand; holding a 3-1 lead with less than 5 seconds to go and the puck having just left Laine’s stick, as he took a long attempt at the empty net. Even if this were called icing, the Flames would have somewhere between 1-3 seconds left to score two goals. It was over.
Rasmus Andersson tracked across his own blue line to deliver a body check, which was fine and within the rules. What really makes this a dirty play is that Andersson leaves his feet and extends his elbow to deliver a blow directly to the side of Laine’s head. This was clearly intent to injure, no other way to put it.
Gudbranson was quick to jump Andersson’s back and throw him to the ice, but it certainly wasn’t enough of a response to satisfy the Blue Jacket anger over the play. I expect the team will have something to say to Andersson when they play again, on January 25 in Calgary. Ultimately, the decision on the ice was called a 5 minute major for elbowing, and a match penalty (intent to injure).
The best outcome here, in my opinion, would be for the Blue Jackets to use that 5 minute at- will power-play to embarrass the Flames with a few goals. But that can’t happen, because this came at the end of the game. Maybe in a dream world, they would start that matchup in Calgary with said power-play and Andersson in the box, but again, that’s not going to be.
So we fall back on the NHL’s own Department of Player Safety here, which actually, much to my surprise, exceeded expectations on this decision. I thought it would be worth three games for a first time offender. Instead, they opted to suspend Andersson, who has never been suspended before, for four games as a result of this hit. You can see the video of their reasoning here; but they note three key points: the timing of the hit, the fact that he left his feet, and that there was an injury on the play.
Ultimately, I feel like they made the right call here. They need to send a message that this kinf of hit is unacceptable. Again, I’m biased because it’s the Blue Jackets; but from any perspective, this is exactly the kind of play that needs to be removed from hockey. The game is over, aside from the final few seconds ticking off. Yes, Andersson is allowed to throw a hit because it’s a hockey play. But, as the checker, he has the onus to protect himself and the player he’s hitting. Instead, he chose to aim high and injure Patrik Laine. He has to pay for the consequence of the play, which looks to be a concussion to a star player.
Andersson opting to appeal the suspension via the NHLPA is no surprise. As it stands, he’s slated to lose almost $95k in salary, and miss the Heritage Classic outdoor game next weekend. He has to plead his case, it makes perfect sense to do so.
From the NHL (Gary Bettman directly) perspective, however, they have no choice but to uphold this suspension. By reducing the number of games Andersson is due to sit out, they’ll send a message to anyone paying attention, that concussing or injuring star players in this league is acceptable on some level. Or at least, that you can plead your case for a better outcome. Like it or not, that’s the way this will be perceived.
The only proper way to handle this kind of play is by hitting the aggressor where it hurts. By making this suspension stand, the NHL will make it clear to Rasmus Andersson and everyone else, that they are serious about eliminating head trauma from this sport. Letting him play in the Heritage Classic, or any games sooner, would be a cop out, and an injustice to another member of the NHLPA: Patrik Laine. This one has to stick.