On Thursday evening, the Department of Player Safety handed down a 4 game suspension to Jets forward, Mark Scheifele, for his hit on Montreal's Jake Evans, towards the end of Game 1 of their North Division Final series.
By now, the mainstream media, along with everyone in Canada with a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account, has weighed in on the incident and what they thought should happen by way of supplementary discipline. YouTube has literally slowed it right down to the nanosecond.
Of course, the primary opinions have come from Habs and Jets fans, players and media with the rest of the country weighing in picking sides. I am a fan of neither the Jets or the Habs until we have a North Division winner. Then I am all in on a Canadian team.
I am going to take my impartiality and look at the facts, the factors and the decision to see if this is consistent and the right thing to do.
THE FACTS – WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?
The goal scored by Evans was prior to the hit but only by a very small margin (half second or less).
Had a goal been prevented, there was nearly a minute left in the game.
Scheifele had several seconds to consider what he was going to do before he arrived at the scene of the incident but no more than half a second to decide to act or not.
Scheifele had fought the puck all night and was frustrated prior to the incident.
Scheifele didn’t make a direct effort to stop the puck from going in with his stick.
Scheifele’s primary point of contact was his right shoulder into the right shoulder/collarbone area of Evans. His arm was tucked in when contact was made.
Scheifele’s feet only left the ice after contact with Evans was made. His momentum took him off the ice.
What Scheifele did meets the criteria for a charging penalty to be assessed based on the NHL rule book. A major penalty was assessed.
Scheifele is 6’3” and 207 lbs and Jake Evans is 6’0” and 183 lbs, according to hockeydb.com.
You are free to dispute some of these facts but here is the incident and I am open to your interpretation. Above is mine.
If you examine this incident like a crime, you need to look at motive, opportunity and intent.
In terms of motive, there doesn’t appear to be any reason why Scheifele would want to do anything to jeopardize Evans’ health. Scoring a goal doesn’t provide much of a motive unless Evans had done something to Scheifele earlier in the game. There is no evidence of that.
However, from a state of mind perspective, Scheifele, in my opinion, was extremely frustrated. He was fighting the puck and seemed out of sync the whole game. This incident may have been a culmination of the frustration. I think I just, unwittingly, described temporary insanity. That won’t fly. If frustration provides a motive, there is one but it’s more of a motive to lash out rather than to target a player. Whoever scored that goal was getting hit.
From an opportunity perspective, there is no doubt that Scheifele did this. That seems to speak to opportunity. I am talking about the opportunity to decide how to react when he got to the crease. I mentioned above that he had several seconds to contemplate what to do when he got there but the goal only got scored as he arrived. I think Scheifele had decided along the way back that he was going to hit Evans whether it meant preventing a goal or not. My only issue is, in lieu of what he did, what were Scheifele’s options? Clearly, he didn’t make a concerted effort to prevent the goal with his stick. Was he in a position to do that? I have heard that he could have done a Superman jump to prevent the goal. Would it not follow that his safety would be in jeopardy and possibly Evans’ as well at the speed he was moving? The other option seems to be to do a Fly By and not make contact or stop. Both involve giving up on the play. What would be said of that by the media, the fans and his teammates. To me, his options seemed limited.
Marc Methot, former Senators defenseman, is on record as saying that the play is to finish your check. Methot was clear he would never want to be hit like Evans was hit but he did also say he avoided getting hit like that by using his peripheral vision effectively. I think if most players were asked, off the record, they would tell you the play is to finish the check. Unfortunately, Scheifele’s frame compared to Evans’ coupled with the speed led to a bad outcome. Scheifele could have chosen a different way to prevent or concede the goal but each of them has its drawbacks.
Intent, to me, is the weakest element of the alleged crime. Players get hit with force all the time. Do I think Scheifele meant to hit Evans hard? Absolutely, he did. Do I think he could have reasonably expected that Evans body would be propelled off the ice and that he would land awkwardly on his shoulder/head and get carted off on a stretcher? I am not convinced. I think it is just as, if not more, likely to believe he expected to rock Evans and then possibly have him get up from the check and challenge him to a fight. In this case, given how often players get rocked versus the number incidents like this, I think intent is tough to prove.
However, when the mob gets a hold of an incident like this, expressions like the following tend to get thrown around on a whim without examining the facts.
He tried to end Evans career
He tried to kill him
He had no interest in preventing a goal. He just wanted to hurt Evans
On the flip side, some equally absurd things have been said about Evans and his part in this incident as if to suggest he had it coming.
He should have had his head up
This is the NHL playoffs and he should expect this type of hit
He didn’t check his blind spot and put himself in a vulnerable position
The opinions of the mob tend to echo the bias of whoever they are cheering for. That’s why it is important to look at the facts.
THE FACTORS – WHAT DOES D.O.P.S. CONSIDER?
Scheifele’s previous disciplinary record
Previous discipline precedents
The call on the ice by the officials
Playoffs vs Regular Season
Injury to the player
I am obviously not privy to the discussions behind closed doors. However, if I am working at the D.O.P.S., I would consider all of the above.
Scheifele has never been suspended in 575 regular season and 33 playoff games. He has never had 50 PIM in one season. That isn’t everything but it does tell us that we are not dealing with a habitually dirty player.
The most relevant suspensions of note are Nazem Kadri’s recent 8 game suspension and Tom Wilson’s recent $5,000.00 fine.
Kadri, unlike Scheifele, has spent quite of bit of time in the Principal’s office. This is his 6th suspension for a total of 16 playoff games and 11 regular season games. This is his 3rd playoff suspension with previous stints of 3 games and 5 games. There also seems to be more intent from Kadri to hurt his opponent in these incidents with very little in the way of justification of making a hockey play. Kadri has served 3 of the 8 games of his current suspension while appealing unsuccessfully to the commissioner.
Wilson is also on a first name basis with everyone in the D.O.P.S. having been suspended 5 times and fined twice. Most recently he had an incident late in the regular season where he went Hulk Hogan on Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers and received the league maximum $5,000.00 fine. This decision was met but a great deal of criticism from the Rangers who lost Panarin for the remainder of the season and the mob who felt Wilson’s previous record and his actions warranted much more.
Surely George Parros would consult with the game officials who assessed a major for charging to get their perspective and he has ample video evidence to consider. Scheifele was given a phone hearing which limited any potential suspension to a maximum of 5 games.
The league surely takes the time of year into consideration when handing out suspensions. Suspending a star player in a playoff series for 4 games is a strong message to send. It also makes you wonder what regular season suspension would have been handed out.
If Evans had gotten up from the incident, surely Scheifele would be looking at a fine. He didn’t and the stretcher, regardless of the severity, surely played into the decision.
Finally, make no mistake about it, hockey is about politics. The fans'/mob’s message counts. The league can say it doesn’t, but they're not going to do anything to further alienate their fan base. And the manner in which they handled the Wilson incident and how the subsequent lack of severity was received by fans, surely has given them pause for thought in how they dealt with Kadri and Scheifele. They don’t want to appear soft on crime.
THE DECISION – FAIR OR FOUL
Looking at the facts (or my interpretation of them), the factors to be considered and the decision that was handed down, I say the decision was partially fair and partially foul.
I know that may sound like a cop out on my part. However, I don’t think what Scheifele did was alright. Being a pragmatist, my conclusions are this:
Scheifele had time to decide what he was going to do when he arrived at the crease while on his way back. I also agree with the decision to finish the check. If he had finished his check with his stick coming forward going for the puck, I think it would have been more credible. A Superman dive would have been problematic at that speed and doing nothing would have been heavily criticized by media, fans, coaches and likely his own players. The game seems so much simpler from your living room doesn’t it?
Scheifele needs to be responsible for what he did. The outcome may not have been predictable but if you are going to lower the boom on someone at top speed, the outcome comes with the territory. You break it, you bought it.
For a player with no suspension history over a lengthy career, this seems like a very stiff suspension. Nazem Kadri had to commit malicious acts twice to get a suspension in the playoff like this and he had a resume in the regular season as well. Scheifele appears to be getting Kadri treatment without the notoriety.
I think the desire to satisfy the mob played into this as well as the desire to avoid any retribution in subsequent games. The law calls it the General and Specific deterrent. They want the teams and individuals to know they are prepared to suspend even a star player.
Unlike Kadri, I think Scheifele has grounds for an appeal. I don’t think he will be successful in his appeal if he chooses to given the avenue takes him to Gary Bettman’s office. He, at least, has a couple of legs to stand on.
Admittedly, if this happened to Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle or any other Ottawa Senator, my lens would get a little blurry. Same would apply if they were in Scheifele’s shoes. Objectively, this was not a Bad Play but rather a Play Gone Bad. Players get rocked all the time and get up from it. What happened to Jake Evans was very unfortunate and there needed to be accountability. This strikes me more of mob justice where the outcome outweighed the facts.
Two games max would have sufficed.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey