Anaheim Ducks veteran center Antoine Vermette slashed an official in last night’s game, a 1-0 win over the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild, and was swiftly ejected. Vermette’s chop to the back of the leg of linesman Shandor Alphonso was nothing more than a love tap, but any and all abuse of referees is not tolerated in the NHL. Now, the league is set to show Vermette just how serious they are.
As reported by Sportsnet’s John Shannon this morning, Vermette’s action is categorized as a Category II violation under NHL Rule 40 , which states:
“Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding actions as set out in Category I), which physical force is applied without intent to injure, or who spits on an official, shall be automatically suspended for not less than ten (10) games.”
Shannon does note that Vermette has a right to an appeal, which would be heard by commissioner Gary Bettman. However, it is possible that Bettman could actually increase the suspension if it is appealed, though it is more likely that he will simply uphold it and is very unlikely that he will spurn his officials by cutting it short. However, if Ducks coach Randy Carlyle had any say, it would surely be reduced. Carlyle told the Orange County Register that Vermette was simply reacting to not being ready for the drop of the puck and that there was no malicious intent or actual harm. It certainly seems that way, but the NHL is still not wrong for taking a hard stance on protecting its refs.
The suspension comes at a tough time for Anaheim, as they jockey for position in the Western Conference playoff picture. Trailing the slumping San Jose Sharks by three point for the top position in the Pacific Division, yet up just two points on the Edmonton Oilers as well, the Ducks can ill-afford to lose a key piece of their forward corps. Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists through 58 games in his first season in Anaheim, and while his signature two-way play has slipped somewhat in 2016-17, he is still a wizard at the face-off dot and leaves a gaping hole at third line center without an easy fix. Over their next ten games, the Ducks play the division rival Los Angeles Kings twice, as well as Western contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues, and additionally host Eastern playoff hopefuls in the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. It is not a good time to lose a major piece and if Vermette’s ten-game suspension is upheld, Anaheim may have to shift its focus at the Trade Deadline to adding some depth down the middle.
The NHL is expected to handle any appeal promptly. Stay tuned for the final word on Vermette’s fate.