Niskanen’s brutal elbow on Skinner is grounds for suspension

The Carolina youngster, who has a history of concussions in his career already, took a forearm to the head from the Washington defenseman early on in the Canes’ final pre-season game.

As if the pre-season hadn’t been horrid enough for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Raleigh squad already lost Jordan Staal to a long-term injury when he broke his leg in an exhibition game and now there’s concern over 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, who was walloped by Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen in the opening minutes of the Canes’ final tune-up. Here’s the play in question:

According to reporter Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington, Niskanen was contrite after the game, saying he hoped Skinner was OK and that the talented Hurricanes youngster was “good for hockey,” but the D-man also offered this puzzler:

“His back was to the net and I think he did a spin shot and he spun right into my elbow,” Niskanen said. “I could feel it. His face hit me right in the elbow.”

That’s an interesting way to put it. For me, having watched the clip both at full speed and in slow motion numerous times, I have to ask: What was Niskanen’s elbow doing there in the first place? Niskanen appears to set his eyes on Skinner seconds before contact, while Skinner’s back is still turned, which I would characterize as intent. And I don’t know how else Skinner could have avoided Niskanen in this case – he was completely prone at the time. I can accept that Niskanen was lining up Skinner for a hit, but there’s still no excuse for the elbow. This just looks like a brutal head-shot that should be grounds for suspension.

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Will the NHL’s new discipline czar, Stephane Quintal, see it that way? That’s the next step. Skinner was to be re-evaluated today and hopefully the Canes and their player get some good news. You never want to see a player drop to the ice and then helplessly fish for his stick the way Skinner did last night.