With less than a minute left to play in the 3rd period of the Montreal Canadiens opening game against the Winnipeg Jets in the 2nd round of the NHL 2021 playoffs, an otherwise entertaining game was overshadowed by a preventable but aggressive and senseless hit by Mark Sheifele of the Jets on Jake Evans of the Canadiens. There is no doubt that a suspension should be in order, however the big question will be the length. If the NHL doesn’t suspend Scheifele for at least the duration of this series, if not longer, then the league isn’t just broken, it’s irreparable when it comes to its ability to translate these types of on-ice indiscretions into fair and actionable consequences. The league will certainly look at several factors in its decision and I wouldn’t be surprised if it might even miss some of them all together.
The on-ice penalty assessed to Mark Scheifele was a 5-minute major for Charging followed with 10 minutes for a Game Misconduct. The NHL Rulebook says this about the Charging penalty, “A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who skates or jumps into or charges an opponent in any manner.” There is little doubt that this is what Scheifele did and was therefore assessed 5 minutes. The rule goes on to say that “Charging shall mean that the actions of a player or goalkeeper who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check and opponent in any manner. A "charge" may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.” This second part has some critical elements that must factor into the leagues further review of this play. Mark Scheifele had a perfect line to Jake Evans from the Jets blue-line all the way to the goal line and he travelled that distance at top speed and with intent, not to play save the puck from going into the empty net, but instead targeting the player who was on the side of the net. The third part of breaking down this rule is whether he “violently” checked Evans and well, there is no doubt about that either. Scheifele put his shoulder into Evans’ head and left his feet with the momentum of the check, giving him a full force that flipped Evans over, landing headfirst on the ice.
There is another element to this that the league should consider and that is the hit to the head portion of this event, which is covered by Rule 48.1 in their Rulebook. Now, while that call wasn’t made on the ice, the league should at its discretion if not just based on the game misconduct, extend consideration as it leverages Rule 28.1 for Supplementary Discipline where, “the Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.”
Even if we park all the rules and go with common sense, this event should not be handled lightly. Too many factors suggest it should be a lengthy suspension. Scheifele travelled a long distance, there is no doubt he had intent as he made no effort to avoid him while he looked right at him seconds before as he lowered his shoulder and lined him up from the blue paint in the goalie crease, he made no play towards the puck to prevent the empty net goal, he rammed his shoulder into Evan’s head, and did not show any remorse or concern for Evans immediately afterwards. Additionally, Scheifele’s demeanour and aggression leading up to this event must also be considered as he openly showed uncontrollable frustration that ultimately manifested itself in the hit.
Everyone who watched this, including the Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets, Paul Maurice was treading lightly with their words because the action was simply not defendable. Even if Scheifele sheds some crocodile tears and offers up a “mia culpa” apology because he came to some post-game realization that he turned into a senseless goon, it doesn’t change the on-ice action in any way.
While the league may want to consider Scheifele’s cleaner past by comparison to some repeat offenders, now is not the time to do it, not in the uniqueness of this situation that showed complete disregard for a hockey player, but also complete disrespect for another human being. That being said, the NHL can be stuck in a different universe of logic and ill-referenced precedence as it usually chokes on its own jurisprudence.
A recent 8 game suspension to Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche for his hit on St. Louis Blues defenseman, Justin Faulk would be a good starting point because when you compare the nature, location, intent, and other elements, the Scheifele one seems far worse. Unfortunately, that 8 game tag probably carried with it more history based on Kadri’s past indiscretions than the actual hit in this year’s playoffs. That is where the NHL gets it wrong every time and that’s part of what feeds “the code” culture, where teams feel they need to take justice into their own hands in subsequent games, unnecessarily.
Get it right NHL and get it right NHL Players Association. If they want to stop these senseless hits, both should collaborate with a heavy hand towards real consequence and do so with the inclusion of the players, team management, and ownership.
This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of The Go On With Guido Podcast https://guidospodcast.buzzsprout.com