As the 2020-21 NHL Trade Deadline comes to an end, focus shifts to a call that happened yesterday afternoon between the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights. With seven and a half minutes remaining in the first period of play, Vegas forward Ryan Reaves looked to catch Coyotes’ defenseman Jordan Gross up high in the head area with a shoulder. (from ‘Ryan Reaves’ hit ignites Golden Knights’ chippy game vs. Coyotes,’ Las Vegas Review-Journal, 04/11/2021)
Nothing was called on the play, and as of this morning, there is word that the NHL Department of Player Safety will not be giving Reaves any sort of suspension on the play. The play is making its way around social media, and it’s not the first time the Coyotes haven’t been able to catch a break from the referees.
In addition to Gross, who as of this morning is reported to have suffered a concussion and knee injury and is possibly done for the rest of the season, numerous other Coyotes players, in particular Conor Garland, have seemed to be on the end of plenty of numerous questionable hits that didn’t result in a call from the Department of Player Safety.
Another example occurred on Feb. 12 against the St. Louis Blues when defenseman Robert Bortuzzo seemed to deliberately stick out his stick and clip Garland in the face as he skated up past the Blues’ bench. Whether it was intentional or not, there should’ve been a call on the play. The result of this play did not end up affecting the outcome of the game, but no fine or suspension was given.
The examples don’t stop there, though. On Feb. 20, in a game against the Kings, forward Austin Strand delivered a nasty cross-check to the face of Garland, sending him to the ice clutching his face in pain. The referees subsequently reviewed the play, and Strand received a five-minute major for his actions.
Further discipline would be taken, and for once, the Coyotes had something called their way. While Strand would not receive a suspension for his scary cross-check to the face of Garland, he would receive a fine of $3,168.10, the maximum allowable under the CBA for cross-checking, but he ultimately would get away without any other sort of punishment.
Garland took a heavy cross-check to the face from Austin Strand. pic.twitter.com/jVPB7Z3bjM— Bally Sports Arizona (@BallySportSAZ) February 21, 2021
Another example that outraged a lot of people and sparked a debate on the severity of the play and who was to blame was on March 31st against the Colorado Avalanche. With five and half minutes remaining in the third in an 8-3 blowout, Garland and Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon got into a tussle down in the corner of the boards that sparked one of the hotter topics that’s still going around on social media and in the hockey world.
During the tussle, Garland would grab onto the legs of MacKinnon and pull him down to the ground. In the process of falling, Garland has his helmet pulled off by MacKinnon. As they were getting up and refs were coming to intervene, MacKinnon would talk Garland’s helmet and proceed to throw it back at Garland’s face in a vicious manner. While both sides received a penalty on the play, with MacKinnon earning a 10-minute misconduct, ultimately, he would not receive any sort of action for the play afterward.
Nathan MacKinnon got a 10-min misconduct for tossing Conor Garland's helmet at him. pic.twitter.com/HdQHogvSut— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 1, 2021
One final example that indeed did result in a suspension was on March 16th against the Minnesota Wild when defensemen Carson Soucy left his feet and caught Garland in the head against the side of the boards. Soucy would end up receiving a five-minute major for charging on the play. Further action was taken, and later that week, the Department of Player Safety gave Soucy a one-game suspension for the hit.
At the end of the day, things can be said about both Garland and MacKinnon here on this play. What can you say about the other plays, though? Garland, who knows how to get under players’ skin, clearly at the same time seems to be the target of these questionable no-calls. What about Jordan Gross? There’s certainly evidence to suggest that whether Reaves hit was intentional or not, it clearly looks to be a shoulder to the head.
Wild defenseman Carson Soucy has been suspended one game for charging Coyotes forward Conor Garland. https://t.co/il4nhvjZ22— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) March 17, 2021
This has potentially cost Gross his season, and the Department of Player Safety clearly doesn’t seem to want to take any sort of action. Out of the five clips shown, there have been three penalties called, one fine given for $3,168.10 and one suspension. Further action needs to be taken, though, as there are other examples. The Department of Player Safety has been on and off this season in giving out fines and suspensions, and when it comes to the Coyotes, they seem to turn a blind eye for the most part.
How many more times does Garland have to be hit up high or run from behind for the league to seriously starting dishing out strict penalties for their actions? People can sit and argue all day about the four clips above and try and tell others that, “oh they deserved that,” or, “it was a clean play,” but the fact of the matter is the NHL DoPS needs to be held accountable for not giving out the proper punishment for these actions. The league is all about trying to enforce player safety and taking away the blindside hits and stuff, but when four examples like the ones above come out, and you sit there and watch them, how do you determine there’s nothing punishable?
While one might think that MacKinnon’s actions are justified or that Bortuzzo didn’t mean to have his stick out, what can you say about Reaves or Strand? Both looked to be contact to the face/head area, and yet one penalty and one fine was given. Nothing is learned from that. What will it take for the refs, but more importantly, the Department of Player Safety, to step in and really give some sort of punishment out for what can be considered a dirty play, something the DoPS is trying to prevent. What do you think, though? Do these hits seem clean to you, or should the league be held accountable? As always, let us know below what you think.