The NHL has suspended Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza six games for kneeing Jets defenseman Neal Pionk in the head during Sunday’s game.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spezza will file an appeal, which will go to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman first and then an independent arbitrator if he upholds the suspension.
The 6-3 Jets win was overshadowed by separate incidents in the third period that resulted in two NHL Player Safety hearings, Wayne Simmonds being fined, and two injuries.
On Spezza’s suspension-worthy hit, it was in retaliation for a Pionk knee-on-knee hit minutes earlier on Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin. Sandin had just fired a shot on net when Pionk went for the hit and made contact with his knee. There was no penalty on the play and that only powered up the emotions in the game, with Sandin being forced to leave with a leg injury.
Minutes after Pionk’s hit on Sandin, a stick-less Pionk attempted to swipe the puck out of the Winnipeg zone and Spezza skated in and bent down low to deliver a hit and his knee connected with Pionk’s head.
The Jets defenseman was able to finish the game and was not pulled by a concussion spotter.
Spezza will forfeit $22,500 in salary and will be eligible to return — if his appeal fails — on Dec. 16 when Toronto visits Seattle.
Pionk in concussion protocol
Pionk was suspended two games for his hit and may be out longer as he’s entered concussion protocol. Sandin, who was on the receiving end of Pionk’s hit that earned him the ban, will miss at least 2-3 weeks, according to Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Pionk will not join the team when they head out on a two-game road trip to Seattle and Vancouver later this week.
Marner out 3-4 weeks
Along with Sandin, the Maple Leafs will also be without Mitch Marner. The forward collided with teammate Jake Muzzin in practice last Friday and injured his shoulder. The team placed him on injured reserve and he’s expected to miss three-to-four weeks.
Following the collision with Muzzin, Marner did not play in the team’s games over the weekend against the Wild or Jets. Upon arriving back in Toronto he underwent an MRI and it showed more damage than they originally thought.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.