Stanley Cup Final: Why suspend Carson Soucy but not Leon Draisaitl?

Both Leon Draisaitl and Carson Soucy hit their opponents in the head. What difference does it make? Patrick Johnston on the strange world of indiscipline in the NHL.

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We’re not here to debate whether Leon Draisaitl should be suspended or not for hitting Alex Barkov too hard during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Edmonton Oilers and Barkov’s Panthers.

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We are here to discuss the fact that he has not been suspended and which once again reminds us of the NHL. This is a league that can’t get out of its own way.

He says one thing – head injuries should be avoided – but turns around and says, “Well, maybe not in this case.”

It doesn’t matter whether Draisaitl intended to kill Barkov as he did, hitting him in the head while leaving his feet. The act happened.

In the past, this action often led to suspension. For some reason this one doesn’t.

Generally speaking, several criteria are used when reviewing plays to determine whether a hit merits a hearing and possible suspension:

• The league clearly states that players are responsible for the consequences of their actions, so what was the nature of the conduct in question? Did the act under review violate any regulations? Was it intentional or reckless? Was excessive or unnecessary force used?

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• Was the fouled player injured?

• Has the player who committed the foul been suspended before? If a player has been suspended in the last 18 months, he or she is considered a repeat offender and will likely face a more severe suspension than if it had been the first time (or at least not been suspended in the last 18 months).

• What was happening in the game when the incident occurred? Is it too late to play? Is the result skewed? Did something happen in the game before the event occurred, either immediately or before?

• Any other factors that may be necessary to evaluate the incident.

Draisaitl was rated as a two-minute minor in the game. The on-ice officials found he broke the rules, but only to that extent. Given the lack of action from the Department of Player Safety, it can be inferred that they felt this was sufficient discipline.

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When the NHL imposes an additional penalty, it releases an explanation video. As you watch Draisaitl lower his legs to throw a punch and then make contact mostly with Barkov’s head, you can hear the narrator’s voice on the recording saying, “This is not a hockey game.”

Only there was no video. The NHL just continued its streak.

One wonders if this next player had hit Barkov, would he have been punished?

In 2019, the Blues’ Ivan Barbashev was suspended for one game in the finals for punching the Bruins’ Marcus Johansson in the head.

In its ruling, the NHL deemed Barbashev’s hit on Johansson immediately after the Bruins forward shot “a high, hard hit that places Johansson’s head as the primary point of contact in a hit where such contact could have been avoided.” This is an illegal head check.”

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It’s hard to imagine how Draisaitl’s reckless hit would have been any different. Even if Barkov’s blow to the head was accidental, it was reckless. He certainly didn’t have to jump like that, which was a clear violation of the rules, as Elias Pettersson can now attest.

But then again, this is the NHL, where one foul may be unlike any other, but it may also be like many others.

Canucks fans are wrong to point to Carson Soucy’s suspension against the Oilers for punching Connor McDavid in the chin, which was widely ruled an accident even if it was reckless, and wonder why Draisaitl isn’t being held on a similar record.

Carson Soucy was suspended for checking Connor McDavid on the chin in the Canucks-Oilers series. Photo: Derek Cain /Getty Images

The only real reason we can see is that Soucy used the stick: as other commentators have pointed out, for whatever reason, when it comes to hitting opponents in the head with the stick – cross checks, as opposed to random high sticks – the NHL has been pretty consistent in handing out suspensions, when such behavior takes place outside the match.

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Prior to Soucy’s ban, there were eight other plays over the previous three seasons that involved cross-checks to or near an opponent’s head, resulting in a suspension.

Checking your opponent’s head, however, turned out to be a more inconsistent story.

The NHL should be better at this. But it’s not like that.

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JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What do you think? Should Leon Draisaitl be suspended for this hit? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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