The NHL Department of Player Safety is on a run. After assigning Ottawa Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau a one-game suspension yesterday, they have stayed in the Atlantic Division with a punishment for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Yanni Gourde. Player Safety has determined that Gourde’s illegal check to the head of the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal is worthy of a two-game suspension.
The ban is almost more of a three-game suspension, as Gourde was tossed from Thursday night’s game after the first period altercation due to a match penalty. This is Gourde’s first incidence of supplemental discipline, having never been previously suspended or fined, but he has already set a career-high in penalty minutes this season and his often overly-aggressive style and the clear intent of the hit were enough to levy a substantial suspension. Player Safety explained as much (video):
With one hand on his stick, Staal holds off (Ryan) Callahan and moves the puck to a teammates. As he does so, Gourde cuts across the front of Staal and delivers a forceful hit that picks Staal’s head, making it the main point of contact. On a play where such head contact was avoidable, this is an illegal check to the head. It is important to note that the head is the main point of contact on this play, as Gourde’s shoulder makes clear and forceful contact with Staal’s head. While we acknowledge Gourde’s argument that Staal was bent low and stumbling as he plays the puck, this hit does not meet any of the criteria for unavoidable head contact… Based on their relative positions on the ice, Gourde has angles of approach available to him that do not require hitting through Staal’s head. In addition, Staal’s head does not materially change position just prior to contact to cause it to become the main point of contact for a hit that otherwise would have been legal… Even before Staal stumbles, Gourde takes an angle that cuts in front of Staal’s core, picks Staal’s head, and makes it the main point of contact.
Gourde clearly used his hearing with Player Safety this morning to argue that the hit to the head would not have occurred if Staal – at 6’4″ – was not stumbling forward while Gourde – at 5’9″ – was trying to make the check. Player Safety throws out this explanation, stating that Gourde’s trajectory was always one with intent to hit a defenseless Staal in the head area. Fortunately, Staal was able to return to the game. The Hurricanes star has a history of concussions and an injury absence may have landed Gourde with a longer suspension. Instead, he will miss the next to games for the Lightning, who have little to play for having already locked up the President’s Trophy.