It's become a ritual in the age of digital fandom: We watch a playoff game. We watch a dangerous play, or potentially dangerous play, occur in that game. We rush to our various enclaves of social media to re-watch that play, observing available angles and soaking in the conclusions of the partisan observers. And then we wait to see if the raging debate will simmer hot enough for the NHL Department of Player Safety to take it on as a case, for the purposes of a suspension.
The thing about this postseason: This ritual seems to be happening a lot, sometimes multiple times in the same game. Part of this is the "what-about-ism" that occurs when a player has done something suspension-worthy and his supporters cluster-bomb critics of the play with several other uncalled incidents that are "just as bad." Heck, even Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice got in the act when defenseman Josh Morrissey was lost for Game 5 against the Wild, tossing several "what-abouts" to the media to distract from his own guy delivering a stick to the neck of Eric Staal.
Morrissey is one of four suspensions so far in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, to go along with Drew Doughty of the Kings getting a game for an illegal check to the head; Ryan Hartman getting a game for an illegal check to the head; and Nazem Kadri somewhat miraculously getting only three games for one of the most intentional and abhorrent hits of the season, a boarding penalty on a prone Tommy Wingels.
Fun fact: This is quadruple the suspensions we had in the entirety of the last postseason, when only Matt Calvert was dinged for cross-checking Tom Kuhnhackl. That was only one of two incidents of violence worthy of supplemental discipline in the 2017 playoffs, along with Leon Draisaitl getting fined for spearing.
The Doughty suspension after Game 1 was like putting Cam Neely in the Hall of Fame: It set a rather low threshold that allowed many others to earn consideration. That we've had two other suspensions for head shots in the same round isn't coincidence.
But then, a hit to the head is a surefire way to earn a postseason suspension. Since 2012, the first season of the Department of Player Safety, there have been 28 suspensions in the playoffs of varying degrees of length. Six have been for illegal hits to the head, and five have been for charging, some of which involved contact with the head. Two more for elbowing -- and those aren't typically because they're elbowing the other guy in the chest.
Boarding is also a popular cause: Five of those suspensions have been for illegal hits from behind.
What's interesting in looking back at the Department of Player Safety playoff reign is what hasn't drawn supplemental discipline: There hasn't been a suspension for slashing, despite having two of them in this past regular season alone. There hasn't been a suspension for slew-footing. There hasn't been a suspension for spearing. Although, in fairness, those offenses usually only rise to the level of fines in the regular season.
All of this speaks to the only test of Department of Player Safety needs to pass in the playoffs: Consistency.
I do expect that a hit to the head will be weighed more heavily, because that's the way it's been. And because it's 2018, and the NHL is facing a potential class action lawsuit saying it doesn't protect players' brains.
I don't expect suspensions for every borderline play. Some things, like the antics of P.K. Subban or Brad Marchand, are penalties during a game and nothing more. Other things, like Doughty or Hartman incorrectly delivering a hit to an opponent's head, deserve what they got.
I wonder if the latter will carry through to the rest of the postseason, because identical plays go without suspension due to the stakes being higher, and that's always been the case: The NHL has handed out one suspension in June during the Department of Player Safety era, to Duncan Keith for a high stick on Jeff Carter in the 2013 Western Conference finals. You have to go all the way back to Aaron Rome on Nathan Horton in 2011 for the last suspension in the Stanley Cup finals.
It's bad enough that the refs put their whistles away too often in the playoffs. The Department of Player Safety can't let up, either.
Jersey Fouls of the Week
Oh, so many. The playoffs are a Jersey Fouls spawning ground.
- Alex Garcia (@SunDevilAlex) April 18, 2018
That's an abbreviation for "Doughty Slayer" on a No. 28 Vegas Golden Knights jersey, a.k.a. the sweater of William Carrier, the player that Drew Doughty attempted to slay himself with a head shot in Game 1. This photo is from Apr. 18 at Staples Center, after that incident. So is this a Tribute Jersey to Carrier, a Protest Jersey for Doughty and a general Jersey Foul about the 2018 playoffs? A hat trick of Foul?
Speaking of L.A.:
- Kelly Twomey (@KellyTwomey) April 18, 2018
Weird. Here we figured "dirty" was always automatically implied on a Dustin Brown jersey.
- Paul Pinza (@MisterPinza) April 19, 2018
Look, I can't help but be honored that this joyous couple thought of us on their special day, or at the very least attempted to curry favor by preemptively sending their Foul in before someone scooped them and submitted it for public scorn. A lovely, heartfelt gesture -- although Pat Falloon officially now ranks behind "Groom" on the all-time sweater No. 17 list.
In case you needed proof. pic.twitter.com/3OZ70Hm9kZ
- The CBJ Artillery (@TheCBJArtillery) April 18, 2018
Thanks to the dozens of fans who sent in this Foul from the Columbus Blue Jackets' game against the Washington Capitals, featuring a Columbus Sidney Crosby jersey. Literally the only thing we can figure here is some sort of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" scenario in which this fan has a delusion that the Blue Jackets and Crosby are both aligned to prevent the Washington Capitals from ever winning the Cup. Because otherwise this is a next-level Foul. Like a New Jersey fan with a Messier Devils jersey ...
The Golden Protocol
The Vegas Golden Knights could win the Stanley Cup this season, which is something we didn't think we'd write until, say, Ariana Grande's residency at Planet Hollywood begins midway through the next decade. By now it's obvious that there's nothing typical about this expansion team, although that should have been evident from the moment the NHL's fast and loose expansion draft rules were announced in exchange for Bill Foley's charter fee.
Privately, some NHL team executives have expressed their displeasure with a draft that squeezed talented players off their rosters or, in some cases, gave GM George McPhee the leverage to force moves that resulted in that talent loss. This is petty whining, perhaps from teams that idiotically overcompensated the Knights while overvaluing their own talent (oh hi, Wild and Panthers). And it's a vocal minority, as the NHL is going to use the same expansion draft rules for the eventual Seattle team.
But what if, in the interest of fairness, the NHL extended the lucrative opportunities of the expansion draft to other teams?
My proposal, in the wake of Vegas' success: The Golden Protocol.
Here's how it works: For a nominal fee, an established NHL team can hit the reset button on its entire roster, and then trigger an "expansion draft" process for the league's other teams. All of that team's players would have no obligation to continue playing for that franchise, although they could return under mutual agreement with management. The team executing The Golden Protocol could rid itself of the expectations and baggage that the Golden Knights thrived without this season. Or, it could retain some star core players and surround them with new talent.
The expansion protection rules will be the established ones -- seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie -- with the "must protect" exceptions for players with a no-move clause and the exemptions for first and second-year players.
Picture this: The Washington Capitals lose in the playoffs (again). They enact The Golden Protocol. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby agree to stay. The rest of the team is repopulated by the "expansion draft," changing the entire complexion of the supporting cast in one sweeping motion. New players, new cap space to go after other players in free agency.
Now, why would the NHLPA agree to this? Consider that The Golden Protocol doesn't invalidate contracts. The team enacting it would be responsible for covering the salaries of their contracted players, although their money would be off the cap. So they either stay with that team, or they leave for another team; at which point, either their contract ownership is transferred to the new team or, at the player's choosing, their contract can be renegotiated on different terms with that team -- like, for example, to fit under a Stanley Cup contender's salary cap.
The Golden Protocol is a massive redistribution of talent on the level of the Superstar Shakeup on WWE RAW and Smackdown, giving everyone involved a chance to jettison or add talent should they choose. But it can't happen every season. That's madness. Let's set it as one team, once every three years. Which brings us to the tricky part: The fee.
Since this is going to be so rare, and so desirous based on their jealousy of the Knights, the only way to make it happen is giving it to the highest bidder. The NHL could set the opening bid at $250 million, or half the Vegas expansion fee, and see where it goes from there. Whatever the fee ends up being, the revenue would be split by the league's other owners.
Teams would now have the option to step up and prove that anyone could thrive with the setup the Golden Knights were given. Would they pay this price to do so? Well, if we know anything about NHL owners, it's their willingness to throw as much money at a problem as possible. Which is another way of saying that Terry Pegula has opened The Golden Protocol bidding at $700 million.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
Highlighted by conversations with CSN Washington's Alan May and the infamous "Catfish Guy" Jacob Waddell, Emily Kaplan and I debate which playoff teams are in the biggest amount of trouble and what the solution is to the postseason player safety issue. Plus, all of your favorite segments of the week! Stream it here or catch it on iTunes.
PHWA voters are getting there
P.K. Subban's nomination for the Norris Trophy is an important one, at least for me as a Professional Hockey Writers Association voter, because it appears that my peers have done some heavy lifting to get there rather than relying on the lazy metrics.
He was eighth in points. He was 21st in time on ice, playing less than Roman Josi for the Nashville Predators. And Josi, frankly, was the glamor pick for best defenseman on the team for most of the season. To arrive at Subban as a Norris Trophy possibility is to dig deeper in the context of his season. Like seeing his 33 even-strength points within the context of having only 42.5 percent of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. Like understanding his impact as a shutdown defender. Like watching the sparks come off the ice as he drags around Alexei Emelin like the anchor that he was.
So this is refreshing. Less so were the Selke results.
Patrice Bergeron was a reputation pick. I know he was, because I still had him fourth on my ballot despite him playing only 64 games this season. That's too small a sample size to win this award, or be in the top three.
But that's a sidebar to the larger issue, which is that the award remains entirely too dependent on point totals to measure a candidate's viability. Like, Sean Couturier didn't suddenly become a dominant defensive forward just because he had 76 points this this season. And yet, he's a finalist now after finishing eighth at best in the past. Meanwhile, Mikko Koivu had one of his finest defensive seasons, but doesn't get a sniff with 45 points. Ditto Radek Faksa of the Stars, with 33 points.
Kudos to the rethinking of the Norris, provided it wasn't just Subban love carryover from last postseason. But the Selke still needs work.
Dave Lozo thinks the Knights make zero sense. "Even the theory I love the most -- all NHL general managers are idiots to varying degrees and the Knights took advantage of that stupidity -- has a gaping hole in it. Do you know who did the drafting for the Knights? An idiot GM!" [Vice]
How the Blue Jackets' success trickles down to youth levels. [WCMH]
Alex Prewitt's entertaining ode to the penalty box. "There are oh-so-many reasons to love the penalty box, a singular swath of sports real estate smaller than most walk-in closets. Only hockey punishes its miscreants so publicly -- isolated from teammates, barricaded behind a heavy door bolted shut with a steel latch, separated from the first row of fans by just a half-inch of tempered glass, guarded under strict supervision by an official from the NHL's legion of sweater-vested off-ice employees. At its core, the penalty box functions as adult timeout: Enter, sit and think hard about what you've done." [SI]
Soccer striker says he used a "hockey move" to score. (Rather than hockey players using "soccer moves" to draw penalties.) [Goal.com]
What's the biggest U.S. city without a pro hockey team, and is it Reno? [Reno Gazette]
Powerful story from Katie Strang about the late Danny Gove and the sexual abuse he faced from a former coach. [The Athletic]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Chris Peters re-grades and redrafts the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft. [Insider]