It’s reasonable to expect that a suspension given for an on-ice crime that was committed more than 20 years ago would be a lot different than one of a similar nature in today’s game. And that was certainly the case when Milan Lucic of the Los Angeles Kings was sentenced for his gratuitous punch to the head of Arizona Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton, but not in the way you’d think.
Lucic served one measly, meaningless and inconsequential game for slashing and drilling an unsuspecting opponent in the head with a sucker punch and forfeited 0.1 percent of his salary this season. It was literally the least the NHL could do. Yes, Connauton slashed Lucic across the wrists and made a boo-boo, for which he was penalized two minutes for slashing. Which players such like Lucic seem to think should be just cause for losing your mind and taking matters into your own hands.
Here’s the video evidence of the offense, one the NHL called, “a punch to an unsuspecting opponent…in this situation, Connauton had no reason to believe that a punch may be thrown by Lucic. The play had been blown dead several seconds earlier and Connauton was in no way engaged with Lucic. Rather, after the whistle blows, Lucic finds Connauton, skates to him and delivers a punch to his head at a moment when Connauton had no way to defend himself in any manner.”
Now let’s compare that to a suspension Brian Burke, then an NHL vice-president and director of hockey operations, gave to Tie Domi when Domi sucker punched New York Rangers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson in October, 1995. Domi received eight games for his sucker punch, which, when you look at it, doesn’t look that much different than the one Lucic delivered to Connauton Saturday night.
And when Burke delivered his reasoning for the suspension, his description of the event sounded eerily similar to what his son Patrick, who works for the department of player safety and voiced over the suspension video, said of the Lucic-Connauton incident. “This is not a fight and this is not a suspension related to fighting,” the senior Burke said. “This is a case where a player deliberately dropped his glove and stick to deliver a punch to an unsuspecting player who was not involved in an altercation and the standard is eight games. As for any players watching this and wondering what suspensions will be in the future for conduct like this, they can count on eight or more.”
Now there are some key differences between the two incidents, the most prominent being that Connauton played the rest of the game and was not injured, while Samuelsson missed two games with a concussion. So a case could be made that Domi deserved a more severe suspension than Lucic. But can anyone watch those two sucker punches and come to the determination that Lucic deserved one-eighth of the suspension Domi received?
What makes the lack of severity of the suspension so much more difficult to accept is that we know so much more now about the danger of blows to the head. The league has come a long way with Rule 48, but for reasons that don’t seem to have any basis in logic, refuse to penalize shots to the head more severely than other fouls. In fact, when you watch the Lucic and Domi sucker punches, it makes you wonder whether the game hasn’t regressed rather than moved forward. It's actually kind of shocking when you think about it for a moment. And of course, it's another example of guys who are supposed to keep their opponents honest causing the mayhem.
And so it goes. Lucic will play before the all-star break when the Kings host the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night and given that this was his third suspension to go along with four fines in his career, will vow to never change the way he plays. And he probably shouldn’t. If this is going to be the kind of discipline he receives for cold-cocking an unsuspecting opponent, why would he?