How seriously does the NHL take an assault by one of its players on another?
The answer came Wednesday afternoon and if you are a hockey fan you were probably disappointed but not surprised.
The NHL embarrassed itself by handing down a slap-on-the-wrist six-game suspension to Red Wings winger Gustav Nyquist for spearing Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon in the face during the first period of Minnesota’s 6-3 victory over Detroit on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center.
Nyquist was upset because Spurgeon cross-checked him near the boards in the Wild zone. Nyquist got up, turned around, looked at Spurgeon and jabbed the blade of his stick into Spurgeon’s cheek. Spurgeon wears a shield but the blow came up under the visor and barely missed his left eye.
Plain and simple, this was assault.
Somehow the referees working the game blew it by giving Nyquist only a four-minute high-sticking penalty instead of the ejection he deserved. The NHL reportedly acknowledged to the Wild that a mistake had been made and Nyquist should have been tossed.
The league then turned around and blew the ruling. Nyquist’s suspension should have been for a minimum of 10 games and, honestly, could have gone as high as 15 considering his intent clearly was to injure and the way he went about it could have cost Spurgeon his eye.
Gustav Nyquist has been suspended 6 games for this high-stick pic.twitter.com/n7KIJUQH4R
— Michigan Sports Zone (@MichSportsZone) February 15, 2017
There was nothing accidental about it, and the fact it happened in a nationally televised game on NBC meant the NHL had a real chance to send a statement. Instead, Gary Bettman’s league let Nyquist off easy and showed again that given a chance to do the right thing they instead did the incompetent thing.
Nyquist was presented with an opportunity to attend a hearing to state his case but passed and decided to defend himself via a conference call with the NHL’s department of player safety.
Nyquist’s explanation, according to the video provided by the league, was that “his intention upon getting back on his skates was to respond with a cross-check of his own and that he was attempting to get his stick around Spurgeon and in position to deliver a cross-check when the blade jabbed Spurgeon in the face.”
Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see Nyquist was selling the league a load of garbage. But, sure enough, the department of player safety said it accepted Nyquist’s explanation that “he did not intend to spear an opponent in the face.”
Other factors working in Nyquist’s favor, were that Spurgeon avoided injury, although he did require stitches to his face, and Nyquist has no history of being disciplined by the league.
None of this should have mattered. Nyquist can claim innocence all he wants but the fact is his first violent offense qualifies as an act that could have left Spurgeon without sight in one eye.
Spurgeon, Nyquist and the NHL were lucky this did not end up being the case. The league was then presented with an opportunity to send a message that using your hockey stick as a weapon won’t be tolerated.
The sad thing is that this will provide another reason for the casual fan to bash hockey for its violence and inability to get its act together. Those who love hockey know it’s a marvelous sport with great speed and skill. But, deep down, we also know the NHL far too often is its own worst enemy.
The latest example came Wednesday when the league was provided with a chance to send a strong message and instead let Nyquist off easy.