At the conclusion of the Penguins 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals Thursday night at Verizon Center, Capitals defensemen John Carlson skates into Penguins' forward Matt Cooke delivering an elbow to Cooke's head.
Word came down on Friday that Carlson would not face a hearing for his actions No penalty was issued on the play, The NHL offered an explanation as to why Carlson would not face supplemental discipline. That, and why it makes no sense after the jump.
The NHL stated to Y!'s Puck Daddy Blog that:
Carlson's focus at this point in a one-goal game is to move the puck up ice and join the play. He's not seeking out a hit on Cooke. Before they make contact, Carlson cringes as he sees Cooke — according to the NHL's frame-by-frame analysis — and attempts to avoid contact. He flings his arm as he's "pretty much past him" and trying to force his way through.
To counter balance the League's statement, here is the text of Rule 48.1 which governs Illegal Checks to the Head:
Rule 48.1: A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.
No where in Rule 48 does it offer dispensation or consideration for players "not seeking a hit" nor does it offer consideration for facial expressions (that we'll simply have to take the NHL's word on). The rule simply states that the head cannot be the principal point of contact which it most definitely is here.
Two things should have occurred. First per Rule 48.2 a minor penalty should have been assessed to Carlson. It was not. Carlson should have faced some form of supplemental discipline. He is not a prior offender and as such he should have face a $2,500 fine (the max allowed by the CBA) at a minimum. I don't believe that Carlson acted maliciously here but Rule 48 also makes no exceptions for intent of perceived intent of a player.
In the end the NHL completely misses here, ignoring their own rule book. There has been less egregious infractions that have meritied fines this year, most notably James Neal's highstick to Montreal Canadiens defensemen P.K. Subban.
Additionally Penguins' Coach Dan Bylsma commented on the NHL's decision during his afternoon media scrum. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette put the pertinent parts on Twitter.
Bylsma says Cooke's reputation did not influence NHL's decision to not punish Carlson for hit to head "in (any) way, shape or form."
Cooke skipped today's optional practice and did not comment on the matter.