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Nathan Beaulieu's lack of suspension may set a dangerous precedent

Nathan Beaulieu got away with cross-checking Zac Rinaldo in the face, without so much as a phone hearing.

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Nathan Beaulieu should have had a phone call with the Department of Player Safety. He should probably be sitting for at least one game, and that likely would have been the best route for the NHL.

Beaulieu's cross-check to the neck area of Zac Rinaldo was clearly against the rules, and the rules do not provide for a reprieve when you're hitting a traditionally predatory player. The rule book should applied to all players, the same way, regardless of the situation.

That being said, while the act was certainly suspendable, given who was coming at him, he could have been acting in self defense. It was dirty, but based on Rinaldo's history, maybe he felt like that was the only option. For all he knew, Rinaldo may have been on his way in to obliterate him, and maybe he just threw his stick up that way instinctively.

He definitely shouldn't make a habit of it, as putting your stick up like that is a dangerous move that could cause an injury. The intent may be understandable, but the decision on whether or not to suspend a player should be purely based on the legality of the play, and this particular one was definitely not legal.

So why no suspension? Elliotte Friedman suggested on Saturday that the Montreal Canadiens would claim self defense. Even if Beaulieu did act in self defense, that does not decide if a play is legal or not.

It is an interesting decision, because the NHL set a dangerous precedent, whereby a player can perform vicious cross-checks as long as it is in self defense. Fortunately, Rinaldo was not hurt, but what if the next time a player does something similar, the opposing player is seriously injured?

That decision could come back to bite them. Imagine a player is injured on a similar play, and the offending player does get suspended. Pundits would be able to point out that the act itself seems to not matter, and the rate of suspension of such acts seems to hinge only on injury. This is why I believe the NHL erred when they decided to not punish Beaulieu.

Regardless of whether or not he was acting in self defense, Beaulieu probably should have been suspended. By protecting himself in a dangerous manner, he opened himself up to suspension, and even if it was the right play, it should have ended with supplemental discipline.

Part of what the Department of Player Safety should do is make sure that all players are treated fairly, and that their safety is taken seriously, even if said players are more likely to attempt an illegal play than fall victim to one.

The NHL gave Beaulieu the benefit of doubt, likely due in large part to the self defense issue, but this decision could hurt them down the line if a similar play happens with a different result.