Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson has been suspended for two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for "intentionally and dangerously" slamming Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson to the ice in Saturday's game.
The suspension comes after Vancouver announced that Pettersson, a 19-year-old considered one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy this season, will miss seven to 10 days with a concussion. The NHL takes injuries into account when deciding on supplemental discipline.
Matheson, who wasn't penalized for the incident during the game, had a phone hearing with the NHL for "interference and unsportsmanlike conduct." He had no fines or suspensions previously in his 168-game career and will forfeit $52,419.36.
The incident occurred in the third period of the Canucks' 3-2 win over the Panthers. After Pettersson made a move that caused Matheson to stumble to the ice, the Florida defenseman tracked Pettersson and pinned him against the end boards after Pettersson had moved the puck. He then lifted an off-balance Pettersson and slammed him to the ice with force, and the rookie's head bounced off the ice. Pettersson left for the trainers' room and did not return.
"That's a dirty play. The league's trying to protect the good, young players, and that's a dirty play," Canucks coach Travis Green said after the game.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner saw it differently.
"It was unfortunate [Pettersson] couldn't come back and play," he said. "Matheson is a pretty clean hockey player, and I don't think there was any intent. He was just finishing his check, and they got tangled up, and he went down."
Some agreed with that assessment. More than a few observers felt the play didn't warrant a suspension, including former Panther and Canuck Shawn Matthias, who tweeted, "didn't target the head, didn't slew foot him and didn't take more than two strides to finish the check. What was dirty? Being stronger?"
The Department of Player Safety, however, differentiated between a hit between players of different sizes and what it felt Matheson did.
"These are hockey plays that are legal, or sufficiently penalized by the on-ice officials. This is not such a play. This is not a hockey play," the NHL said in its suspension video.
On Monday, Green admitted that he was still fuming over the Pettersson injury.
"Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I've very upset. We lost a bright, young player to an injury that I don't think was necessary. I'm pissed off right now talking about it, but composure is a part of coaching and a part of playing," he said.
The composure of the Canucks was criticized after Pettersson's injury, as no one on Vancouver attempted to gain a measure of retribution from the Panthers. Green said that neither he nor the players were aware of the injury; had they been, their reaction might have been different, he said.
"As far as retribution or anything like that, I'm not going to comment on it," Green said. "But I do want a group that will stick together, without being barbaric or doing anything stupid."