UPDATE: There will be no suspension for the hit.
The Montreal Canadiens finally lost their first game in regulation last night against the Calgary Flames. It was a classic goaltending duel, with Jake Allen and Jacob Markstrom turning in memorable performances. The latter was beyond exceptional, and ended up stealing the game for his team.
This should be the narrative of the game, but unfortunately there was an incident in the second period that somewhat overshadowed the events of the game itself. One that the officials inexcusably elected to ignore. Dillon Dube made violent contact with the head of Jesperi Kotkaniemi behind the Canadiens’ goal line, drawing blood and a crowd after the eventual whistle.
It was maddening that the only penalty assessed on this play was to Shea Weber for going after Dube. Kotkaniemi would head back to the bench and briefly left the game, but did return for the third period. That really shouldn’t colour the perception of the hit, as it was clearly illegal, and Kotkaniemi’s ability to come back from it should be irrelevant.
The referee in this play would be just off to the bottom left corner of your screen, so he would have had an impeccable angle to see the contact. Of course I can’t say precisely what he was looking at — since the puck was right there, it’s safe to assume that’s where he was looking — but I cannot possibly account for how he felt this was a legal hit.
This is clearly a vulnerable player, with the offending player coming off his feet, and delivering a blow with his forearm in which the principal point of contact is the face. I don’t know exactly how clear it has to be for the Department of Player Safety to get involved, but this seems like an open and shut case. It should be easily suspendable.
There is an interesting parallel here with a recent incident involving Tyler Myers in a game against the Canadiens.
Part of the DoPS argument for the Myers hit on Joel Armia — one as a result of which the latter is still out of action — was that the head and body were propelled backwards in unison, whereas principal head contact should cause the head to snap back. Looking at the above video, it does not take perfect vision to see the head snap backwards first.
Their second argument was that the contact to the head in that case was unavoidable. For Dube, if he were to lead with his shoulder instead of his hands and arms, or not come off his feet, he certainly could have avoided head contact. It should be very interesting to see how the DoPS acts in this case within the context of the Myers incident.
With the Myers hit, you had a player who was assessed a Match Penalty on the ice, whereas Dube was assessed nothing. Since the DoPS has established that the ruling on the ice doesn’t impact their own ruling, it would take some serious mental jiu-jitsu to rule Dube’s hit legal. It checks the boxes they previously indicated as being important, but not applicable to the Myers hit, so they’d be going against themselves by deeming this new event as also being legal.
I would expect something to come from the league about this, but given their recent inaction, I do not expect them to actually do anything about it. The George Parros led DoPS has been a paper tiger at best, so it won’t be shocking if they elect to side with the on-ice officials in a way they did not when it came to Myers.
It seems clear that Dube should face discipline for this hit, but the question remains whether the league is prepared to actually offer that.