Nothing makes sense: Chris Kunitz and Steve Downie each receive one-game suspensions

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Yesterday we saw Vancouver’s Raffi Torres get away without punishment for a vicious shot to the head of Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. While that hit was excused on an odd technicality of sorts with Colin Campbell saying that they “never intended to eliminate that kind of hit” from the game. The sort of hit where players are speeding around behind the net and thigns can just happen.

Fast forward to this afternoon where both Lightning forward Steve Downie and Penguins forward Chris Kunitz each had a hearing with the NHL regarding dubious hits from last night’s Game 3 that saw the Penguins come out on top 3-2. Kunitz connected with Simon Gagne on a dirty roaring elbow to the back of Gagne’s head reminiscent of things we’ve seen from one particular teammate of Kunitz’s. Downie delivered a huge hit to Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy that saw Downie leave his feet to launch himself at Lovejoy. Downie knocked down Lovejoy but didn’t connect with his head and wasn’t a blindside hit. Making that all the more fun is that the hit occurred behind the net as well much like Torres’ hit only Lovejoy knew Downie was coming.

With those facts in place, of course the league opted to go against the grain and suspend both Downie and Kunitz for one game each. So let’s check back over the playoff punishment list:

  • Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan: Two games for stomping the foot of an opponent
  • Los Angeles’ Jarret Stoll: One game for hitting Ian White in the head from behind
  • Vancouver’s Raffi Torres: Zero games for delivering a blindside shot to the head while behind the net
  • Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie: One game for charging
  • Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz: One game for an intentional elbow to an unsuspecting opponent

Confused? So are we.

Campbell’s statements on the hits are to the point. On Downie’s hit he says, “Downie left his feet and launched himself at the head of his opponent and he came from a considerable distance, with speed and force, to deliver the check.”

That’s a bit of an assumption to say that Downie was targeting Lovejoy’s head, but there’s no doubt about him leaving his feet. As for Kunitz, he was a bit more direct saying, “Kunitz delivered an elbow directly to the head of his opponent.”

For all the bluster and yelling and pontificating the league does about wanting to clean up the game and make sure players are saved from having their heads (or feet) taken off by an opponent with ill intent the NHL sure is doing a poor job of being consistent about any part of it. While the inconsistency is a source of jokes and snarky commentary (with good reason) the players and Colin Campbell as well as those above Campbell at the NHL home office have to realize that there’s nothing about any of this that makes any sense. Calling it the “Wheel of Justice” isn’t just for jokes anymore as it seems this is just how it’s handled.

Torres’ shot to Seabrook has Seabrook out of tonight’s Game 4 in Chicago. Gagne is fortunate to not have suffered an injury thanks to Kunitz’s elbow but there’s zero way you can argue the intent behind his hit. Downie is a guy with a checkered past and a history of leaving his feet to deliver huge (and illegal) hits. He was once given a 20-game suspension back in 2007 with the Flyers for leaving his feet to hit Dean McAmmond. Any player with that sort of past should be scrutinized further, but given what we’ve seen out of Torres, Kunitz, and Ryan Downie’s hit seems like child’s play. Yet here we are with Downie being sat down by the league for a game while Torres will be back on the ice tonight in a game that could turn ugly because of his presence.

This just brings about the question of where exactly the line is for these players? Is having a permanently blurred line so a player isn’t sure whether or not he’ll be punished or not for a potentially dangerous hit is the goal, then mission accomplished. If having any kind of accountability for what happens was the aim then they’re failing miserably. It’s hard to believe that teams and players find this sort of Russian Roulette brand of handling punishment is in their favor but something’s got to give here.

We’re not asking for a great overhaul of how to do things we’re just asking for common sense. Hard to believe that asking for that would be the most difficult request out of everything.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.

Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

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Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

MORE on the trade here

Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

***

When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?