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.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.