By Allan Muir
The NHL's Department of Player Safety found its missing teeth -- soaking in a glass of lukewarm water and Poli-Dent, no doubt -- and slapped them into its gaping maw just in time to take a two-game bite out of Alexander Edler's season.
In the wake of the Rick Nash decision earlier in the day, it was reasonable to assume an air of leniency had descended over the DPS and Edler might be given a cookie, a glass of warm milk and a kiss goodnight for his troubles.
Instead, the Canucks defender was handed a suspension for his charge on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith that falls in line with what Andrew Shaw earned for his hit on Smith in last year's playoffs...and one that's two games more than Milan Lucic got for bowling over Ryan Miller in open ice earlier that season.
Crazy, ain't it?
In his explanatory video, the DPS' Rob Blake quoted NHL Rule 42: "A goalkeeper is not ‘fair game’ just because he is outside the goal crease area... However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the Referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."
"While we agree that Alex Edler has no malicious intent on this play," Blake added, "we believe he does not make any effort to minimize or avoid contact."
Fair enough. Edler didn't even think about avoiding contact, so he's dead to rights there. I'd argue he made contact with Smith's chest, rather than his head as Blake also mentions, but I'm not even sure that matters here. Smith wasn't able to return to action and he's dealing with what the team called whiplash, so factor the injury along with the charge and Edler was destined for civvies.
The decision tastes sour after the Nash pardon, but on its own merits it seems like a reasonable result. And since looking for a precedent in previous decisions has become a fool's errand, that's probably the best we can hope for.
UPDATE: A league executive phoned (way too early) this morning to say that the Lucic/Miller incident sparked a renewed commitment from the league to protect goaltenders and so it wasn't an ideal point of comparison to the Edler hit. That's a fair point, so it was worth including here. It doesn't, however, alter the overarching context that the DPS' reactions to the Nash/Edler incidents reinforces the existing perception that DPS lacks coherent standards.