This might have been the easiest call the Department of Player Safety has ever had to make. Leo Komarov’s elbow to the head of New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh was so blatant, so gratuitous and so egregious that it would have been an outrage had it not decided to suspend him.
In fact, the NHL could not have made it any more basic than it did. In explaining the rationale behind Komarov’s three-game sentence, this is what the league said in its video: “As (McDonagh) attempts to deke Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, Komarov approaches him from center ice, leans toward McDonagh and deliberately extends his elbow out and into the head of McDonagh. This is elbowing.”
Apparently Komarov wasn’t aware of this himself, however. How he could have thought charging from center ice and sticking his elbow out into the head of a vulnerable player could lead to anything but a match penalty and a suspension seems beyond comprehension. Of course, he pulled out all the predictable lines when asked by reporters about it after practice on Friday, saying, “I’m not trying to hurt people, I’m just hitting. It goes how it goes.”
But then again, maybe Komarov was just playing the game with an edge and was willing to take his chances. After all, if the DOPS has proved anything over the years, even the most egregious cases of player-on-player attempt to injure goes unpunished.
Which brings us to the previous night when the Rangers were playing the Chicago Blackhawks. Just as rookie-of-the-year favorite Artemi Panarin is putting the finishing touches on a hat trick with an empty-net goal with 1:11 remaining in the game, Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle chops him down with a two-hander that would do Paul Bunyan proud. Take a look at it here:
And here’s the kicker. Yandle was asked by Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record about the Komarov elbow the next night and responded with: “Guys have to have culpability and respect for one another. You hate to see your friend and teammate get hit by someone like that when it’s totally preventable. It’s all about respect.”
It is to laugh. Where was Yandle’s respect for Panarin when he made a reckless, dangerous and vicious play that could have seriously injured one of the game’s brightest young stars? What about Yandle’s slash was not “totally preventable?” How could referee Justin St-Pierre be looking directly at that play and completely abdicate his responsibility by not calling a penalty? How could the player safety department not look at that play and see how inherently dangerous it was?
Even though Panarin was not injured on the play, it is not a stretch to suggest that if the Yandle slash had really gone sideways, it could have ended Panarin’s career. When a player is going at that speed and goes feet-first into the boards, disaster can loom. Pat Peake essentially had his career ended when he shattered his heel trying to beat an icing call. Former Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kurtis Foster was sidelined for more than a year after breaking his femur trying to beat out an icing call.
(Panarin was not skating nearly as fast as either Peake or Foster was and was not hurt on the play, but it was undoubtedly a suspendable offense.)
So what you have are two incidents on successive nights, both of which involve an opponent going way beyond the rulebook and acting in a vicious and reckless manner. One of them was handled perfectly, with a match penalty being called and a three-game suspension handed out. One of them was bungled catechismically, with no penalty call and nary a peep from the Department of Player Safety.
They both looked like obvious, easy calls from this corner. But only one of them was made. Carry on, then.