Not sure what was more of a joke, the fact that the NHL’s Department of Player Endangerment™ suspended Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas only two games for clubbing NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov over the head with his stick or the head-scratching claim department head George Parros made when explaining the suspension.
Read what Parros said in the NHL’s video explaining the suspension and try not to laugh out loud: “As part of our efforts to change player behavior and in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, the Department of Player Safety will increase a player’s discipline when he repeatedly violates NHL playing rules. No matter how forceful the impact he makes is, Gudas must stop using his stick to target the heads of his opponents.”
Oh really now? This is the same Radko Gudas who received a 10-game suspension for his stick attack on Mathieu Perreault of the Winnipeg Jets just 15 months ago, right? The same Gudas who, for no discernible reason, two-handed Kucherov over the head Tuesday night? Now I’m no psychologist, nor have I ever played one on TV, but it strikes me that if you want to “change player behavior” and teach people such as Gudas that they, “must stop using their sticks to target the heads of their opponents,” decreasing a player’s suspension by 400 percent for the same offense isn’t the way to do it.
Is the league tired of seeing its lengthy suspensions get reduced by the neutral arbitrator? Perhaps. But it’s clearly not following its own credo here. Gudas actually learned something from his last suspension, which is why he went 15 months where he toed the line and played a pretty clean and effective game. So giving him two games now for being guilty of something for which he has already been punished makes no sense.
There are no hard and fast rules here, so the NHL is pretty much like Garth and Kat from Saturday Night Live when it comes to discipline, meaning it makes things up as it goes along. But there have historically been two things that DOPS has not tolerated – players whose miscreant behavior has nothing to do with a hockey play and those who embarrass the department by repeating the same behavior pattern. With that in mind, two games is enormously counterproductive.
Yes, Gudas has basically kept his nose clean in the 15 months since his last suspension. He is a better player, one who concentrates more on contributing on the ice and less on trying to injure his opponents. When he puts his mind to it, he can be a very effective defenseman who can play a physical game and be an asset to his team. But it’s the league itself that set the “repeat offender” threshold at 18 months. There’s a reason for that. So if a guy who has historically been a serial offender is good for a year, then goes back his old ways he’s supposed to be treated like everyone else? Don’t think so.
Many have compared this incident to the Evgeni Malkin stick swing on Michael Raffl of the Flyers one week prior to the Gudas incident. It was a vicious, reckless and potentially harmful piece of work that should have earned Malkin a five-game suspension. Instead, he got one. But Malkin, while certainly no angel when it comes to skullduggery, is not a repeat offender by NHL. Gudas is, and what’s worse is what he did Tuesday night was another stick foul, another two-handed swing at an opponent’s head. That’s the crux of the matter here. As Parros said himself, Gudas has to stop using his stick to target the heads of his opponents.
DOPS essentially scorched any possibility of it being a long suspension by holding a telephone interview with Gudas. By doing that, it guaranteed that the suspension would be a maximum of six games. Not enough. Not near enough. You want Gudas to stop swinging his stick at other players’ heads? Give him at least 20 games to think about how he’ll react the next time.
To give Gudas two games for what he did to Kucherov goes against everything the league and those meting out discipline say about putting an end to the kind of behavior they claim to want to eradicate. But then again, when the NHL’s Wheel of Justice spins, nobody really has any idea where it’s going to land. Luckily for Gudas, it landed on two games.