Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl not suspended for hitting Aleksander Barkov

Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl avoided suspension for an illegal hit that knocked Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov out of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety ruled Tuesday that Draisaitl would not be fined or suspended for the hit, which received a two-minute minor for rough conduct.

The Panthers lead the series 2-0 after Monday’s 4-1 victory, with game three scheduled for Thursday night in Edmonton. Florida coach Paul Maurice indicated Tuesday that Barkov’s health is heading in the right direction.

“He came today. He wasn’t worse. That’s really good. The real assessment will come tomorrow, but if he continues to make progress we should be in good shape,” the coach said.

Barkov leads the team with 19 points in 19 games, sharing him with Matthew Tkachuk. A Selke Cup winner as the NHL’s top defensive forward, Barkov played a key role in the Panthers defeating Oilers star Connor McDavid, who had one assist in two games.

Meanwhile, Edmonton will have Draisaitl in the lineup for a must-win game. After the season, he ranks second among the Oilers in goals (10) and points (28).

With the Panthers leading 2-1 in the third quarter of Game 2, Barkov played the puck in his defensive zone. Draisaitl went into front control, lowered his skates and his elbow touched Barkov’s jaw. The Florida captain fell to the ice, was treated by medical staff and then went to the trainers’ room.

Maurice said his star center was unavailable for the last 9:28 of the game. Panthers players said the key to victory was not letting the loss of Barkov affect the way they finished the game.

“I think we have come together. We did what we had to do to win the game,” said winger Evan Rodrigues, who scored his second goal of the game on another power play. “You never want to see your captain go down, but I think everyone did a great job of focusing and getting the job done.”

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch expected nothing more than a penalty kick. “I think he went in there to hit. His hands raised a little high. He tried to knock him off the puck and that led to a penalty,” the coach said.

Sources told ESPN on Tuesday that Draisaitl’s hitting did not reach the level necessary to warrant a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final. It was not perceived as predatory or delivered with the intent to cause harm. Draisaitl is not a player with a history of illegal blows to the head. He has never been suspended and has only been fined twice: in April 2017 for spearing and in November 2023 for dangerous travel.

However, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety took into account Barkov’s status in Game 3 and beyond in its decision. If he were sidelined, it could result in a possible suspension decision.

While injuries don’t always lead to suspensions, special attention should be paid to the unique dynamics of a seven-game playoff series between two opponents and what a player’s absence due to injury could mean for that series. This went into effect in 2023 when Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting was suspended for three games for illegally hitting the head and obstructing Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, a key player on the team.

However, Barkov appears to be on track to play in the third game.

“We had a few things to check today. We looked at them, so there’s nothing wrong with it. And he approved it,” Maurice said. “He looked better today. I feel fine. But you need to give him another 24 hours to make sure he still feels strong. If this continues, he should be our player.”

Maurice excluded himself from talks that emotions related to the incident could spill over into Thursday’s match.

“Finished. The referees ordered a penalty kick on the ice. The league looks at each hit and makes a decision. We don’t deal with this anymore,” he said. “Part of it is having the mental discipline to leave the game as it is, regardless of the outcome. For me it’s over. That’s all”.

An additional penalty was imposed in the second game: Edmonton’s Sam Carrick was fined $2,213.54, the maximum allowed by the CBA, for hitting Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov.