Following a hearing earlier today with the NHL Department of Player Safety, a decision has been handed down to Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett. Player Safety has announced that Bennett has been suspended for three games for an illegal check to the head of Montreal Canadiens forward Cedric Paquette on Saturday. Bennett will miss more than a week of game action, sitting out against Calgary on Tuesday – a revenge game for the former Flame – Dallas on Thursday and Carolina on Saturday, returning to action against Vancouver on Tuesday, January 11. The league’s reasoning was as follows (video):
Bennett delivered a high, hard hit on [Paquette], making his head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable… Bennett delivers a forceful shoulder check to Paquette that makes his head the main point of contact, knocking him to the ice. This is an illegal check to the head… While we acknowledge that Bennett does make subsequent contact with Paquette’s left shoulder after going through the head, it is clearly Paquette’s head that absorbs the brunt of the force of this blow. Bennett’s shoulder makes direct and forceful contact through Paquette’s head and jaw, snapping his neck back… Bennett has the time and space to deliver a legal check that hits through Paquette’s near shoulder and core. His chosen angle of approach however forces him to cut across and in front of the body and make the head the main point of contact.
Player Safety also took into account that Bennett is considered a repeat offender. The physical forward has only been suspended once, but it was just last year during the postseason and for a similar incident. Bennett was suspended one playoff game for boarding Blake Coleman, another dangerous hit to the head of an opposing player. It also did not help Bennett’s case that Paquette was injured on the play, eventually leaving the game with a reported neck injury. As for the length of the suspension, it was likely taken into account that no penalty was called on the play meaning Bennett did not miss any time on Saturday as a result of the incident.
Bennett’s absence will be felt on a number of levels for the Atlantic-leading Panthers. Bennett is playing a major role in his first full season in Florida, averaging a career-high 18:30 in ice time and on pace for a career-best – by a wide margin – 31 goals and 48 points. The second-line center is also relied upon at the face-off dot and for his defensive play. Bennett has a regular penalty kill role, his 59 hits rank second among Panthers forwards, and his +12 rating is also among the best marks on the team. In every facet of the game, Bennett will be missed for the next three games, especially against two fellow division leaders in the Flames and Hurricanes.