The decision has been handed down from the NHL Department of Player Safety, rather quickly in fact, on Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. Less than 24 hours after defeating the Columbus Blue Jacket to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, the Bruins have learned that they will be without their top defender for Game One against the Carolina Hurricanes. McAvoy has been suspended for one game for a hit to the head of Columbus’ Josh Anderson, the league announced.
Late in the second period of Monday night’s deciding Game Six, McAvoy was called for a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on Anderson. Columbus fans and players alike, and head coach John Tortorella most of all, were upset that McAvoy did not receive a greater penalty for the heavy hit, especially as Anderson struggled to get back to his feet and leave the ice. The referees ultimately decided that McAvoy’s check was not worthy of a game misconduct, but clearly the Department of Player Safety disagrees, issuing an even greater penalty of a whole game suspension. In their breakdown of the play, the department explains their decision as such:
McAvoy comes across the front of (Anderson’s) body and delivers a high, hard check that makes Anderson’s head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable. This is an illegal check to the head… McAvoy’s shoulder clearly makes direct and forceful contact with the head of Anderson… While hits from the side are not illegal, they are difficult to execute legally. In this case, while we accept McAvoy’s argument that he is not intentionally attempting to hit Anderson in the head, he takes an angle of approach that cuts in front of Anderson’s body, rather than through the near shoulder and core… McAvoy then elevates his shoulder up and into the head of Anderson, rather than staying low and aiming for Anderson’s chest or far shoulder.
It is worth noting, as the league did, that there did not appear to be intent to injure on the play, but rather it was an ill-advised and dangerous hit that earned McAvoy his suspension. McAvoy and Anderson appeared to be on good terms in the handshake line at the end of the game, indicating that there was a mutual understanding that this was not a dirty play, but simply poorly executed. It also helped McAvoy’s case that this was his first interaction with Player Safety, having never previously been suspended or fined.
A one-game suspension was the result that many expected and was likely the best-case scenario for the Bruins. Nevertheless, McAvoy’s loss for even one game is major. The 21-year-old defenseman has been Boston’s top blue liner all season, when healthy, and all postseason, along with fellow young defenseman Brandon Carlo. McAvoy is a key puck-mover for the Bruins and easily their most dependable possession defenseman in all three zones. He has logged major minutes in the playoffs skating on the team’s top pair and second power play unit, contributing six points, 30 hits, and a +8 rating through 13 games and has had to pick up the slack of pair mate Zdeno Chara, who has struggled frequently this postseason. In replacing him for Game One, head coach Bruce Cassidy will have to get creative with his defensive pairs, likely replacing McAvoy’s spot in the lineup with John Moore or Steven Kampfer and shuffling some combinations around. Expect the regular pairing of Carlo and Torey Krug to likely see top minutes in Game One on Thursday, as the Bruins try to fight through this adversity to take an early series lead on the Hurricanes.