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Player Safety In-Person Hearing For Rielly Makes NHL Looks Ridiculous

February 12, 2024, 11:22 PM ET [425 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The NHL Department of Player Safety has offered Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly an in-person hearing for the cross-check on Ottawa winger Ridly Greig in the Leafs 5-3 loss to the Senators on Saturday. The penalty came as a result of Greig firing a slap shot at the empty net from point-blank range as an exclamation point to the Sens winning over the Leafs for the third time in four games.

First the incident itself. The shot was a bush league move by Greig. Perhaps he thought he could get away with a petulant ‘up yours’ to the Leafs and their fans who invaded the Canadian Tire Centre on a Saturday night, but his motivation is less important than Rielly’s response, which was a cross-check to Greig that connected to his left shoulder pad and rode up to hit the winger’s jaw.

An in-person hearing nearly always results in a suspension of six or more games. If Rielly gets six, it will tie Detroit’s David Perron’s suspension for the cross-check on Artem Zub of the Sens as the largest suspension handed this season.

If we are basing the suspension on the viciousness of the infraction, it merits anywhere from a maximum fine to a two-game suspension, and that is not based on any bias on my part, because a non-Toronto-based league reporter like Larry Brooks of the New York Post thinks it merits a lesser suspension.

If you want a comparable involving the Leafs, Auston Matthews was suspended for two games in March 2022 for a cross-check to Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin. Matthews responded to Dahlin shoving him into the crossbar with a cross-check direct to the neck of the Sabres defenseman.

What apparently has turned the volume to 11 was that this was a retaliation, but the fact that it was on a Canadian national broadcast on Saturday night and it involved the Maple Leafs also is a contributing factor to the league’s overkill.

There is no other way to interpret this.

“We spent a lot of time watching pretty much every cross-check that’s happened in the last number of years and the ones that I thought were similar in nature to Morgan’s were nothing close to requiring that,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “At the same time, I think there’s a history also of events that happen in Toronto and with the Leafs that get more attention and more hype that tend to lead to something such as this.”

The Leafs Jason Spezza was suspended six games back in 2021 for a knee to the head of Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk, which was in retaliation for Pionk injuring Rasmus Sandin after Sandin had hit Blake Wheeler of the Jets the previous year. Pionk was suspended for two games.

Rielly will be in New York on Tuesday for the hearing and will miss at least the Leafs game against St. Louis at Scotiabank Arena, but a six-game suspension would have him miss home games against Philadelphia and Anaheim, and the first three games of a road trip in St.Louis, Arizona, and Vegas.

The NHL appeal process if he is suspended for six games will not yield any fairer result because Commissioner Gary Bettman will not go against the ruling of the DOPS. The subjective nature of how the league doles out punishment makes them look foolish, but why should that be a surprise?


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