TORONTO – The NHL came down hard on James Wisniewski, handing the Anaheim Ducks defenceman an eight-game suspension Thursday for his hit on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook.
It’s the longest suspension league disciplinarian Colin Campbell has handed out this regular season and comes at a time when the NHL is under pressure to make the game safer.
Wiesniewski, a former member of the Blackhawks, apologized for the hit but felt the suspension was too harsh.
“I am truly sorry that my friend Brent Seabrook was hurt on the play,” Wisniewski said in a statement. “I certainly wish him the best. I am, however, very disappointed in the length of the suspension. Eight games is incredibly hard to swallow, especially in comparison to other recent hits that have resulted in lesser punishment.”
Wisniewski was assessed a minor penalty for charging during the second period of Wednesday’s game after skating hard into the corner and driving Seabrook into the end boards.
The play came shortly after Seabrook had knocked Anaheim’s Corey Perry to the ice with a questionable check. The Blackhawks defenceman did not have the puck prior to getting hit and was forced to leave the game.
“Mr. Wisniewski delivered a retaliatory hit to the head of an opponent who never had possession of the puck,” Campbell said in a statement.
It marks the second time this season Wisniewski has been suspended. He was banned two games on Nov. 2 after hitting Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan in the head with his forearm.
As a repeat offender, the 26-year-old will forfeit US$268,292.72 in salary and won’t be eligible to return to the Ducks lineup until April 3 at Los Angeles.
While Ducks GM Bob Murray agreed that Wisniewski should be disciplined for his actions, he questioned the length of the suspension.
“We love the way Wis plays, and we want him to play the game hard, that’s how he has to play and he’s very effective doing that,” Murray said on a conference call. “In this instance he crossed the line. He went too far. And he’s going to get suspended. I applaud the league for cracking down on these things.
“The only problem I have is the length of it. It just seems that Wis at this point, because of the climate of the league, is an easy target.”
Seabrook recently won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Vancouver Olympics and is the second Blackhawks defenceman to get injured in a matter of days. On Sunday, Brian Campbell was lost for up to two months with a broken collar bone and a fractured rib after getting hit by Alex Ovechkin, who received a two-game suspension.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was even more upset with Wisniewski’s hit because Seabrook didn’t touch the puck.
“There are certain hits in the game that are tolerable if you got the puck,” Quenneville said after Wednesday’s game. “But if you hit a guy without the puck, you could kill a guy. It’s the most dangerous hit in the history of the game. He tried to hurt him. If that’s not intent, that’s as bad a hit as you can ever have in the game.”
Murray took issue with Quenneville’s reaction.
“I played in Chicago for a long time, I lived in the city of Chicago, it used to be a black and blue town, it didn’t have whiners,” he said. “I strongly suggest Joel worries about his goaltending and stops trying to run the National Hockey League. He should worry about coaching.”
The Blackhawks have yet to provide a timetable on Seabrook’s return.