The NHL likely won’t suspend anyone involved in Jake Muzzin’s injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they should do something.
If you missed it, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin was injured in what was largely a freak accident. Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois threw a crosscheck at Muzzin’s back. Muzzin then falls forward, starts gliding a bit on the ice, looks like he then trips on the ice, and goes face-first into the leg of Oliver Bjorkstrand. It put significant pressure on his head/neck/spine area, causing immediate concern.
Ultimately, the injury wasn’t all because of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ play. However, the play is what sent the chain reaction for Muzzin to get seriously hurt.
In a fight for the puck behind the net, Pierre-Luc Dubois throws a crosscheck at Muzzin’s back, in the numbers. The force from Dubois’ crosscheck causes Muzzin to fall forward. So close to the boards, that’s a danger in itself. Instead, Muzzin goes sliding, hits a bump in the ice, and goes flying. Now, that’s also very dangerous, made worse when he goes head-first into Oliver Bjorkstrand’s leg, around the back of Bjorkstrand’s knee.
The issue here is… well… crosschecking is… how do I say this?
Illegal. It’s illegal.
Section 8, Rule 59.1 in the NHL rulebook classifies crosschecking as ”The action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent.”
Rule 59 also adds that referees can judge whether the play warrants a major penalty depending on the severity of contact. The rule even goes as far as saying that, if the player is deemed to have deliberately attempted to injure their opponent, a match penalty can be assessed.
When you take a closer look at the play, Dubois looks like he almost throws out his back landing that crosscheck. His wind-up was one that you rarely see when those types of hits. In fact, it looks like Muzzin loses some feeling in his legs as a result of the contact to his back, made worse by his contact with Bjorkstrand.
I get it, playoffs time means more calls go through. Extra roughing, slashes, even crosschecks. Dubois took it all a step too far. There’s a line between playoff hockey and going out for blood, and Dubois almost injured himself (and almost injured Oliver Bjorkstrand) as he found the line.
Except… there was no call. An illegal play that could’ve ended Jake Muzzin’s career… wasn’t called.
What Should They Do?
I’ll start by saying this. I think that play was a penalty, potentially even a major penalty (but maybe that’s just the bias in me), but I agree that it does not warrant a suspension.
That’s what makes this all so frustrating. That’s a call that needs to be made on the ice, not off of it.
I’m not writing this to yell for Pierre-Luc Dubois’ head. Instead, I think the league needs to make it clear that their priority is NHL Player Safety.
10/10, the play Dubois makes results in some sort of injury. If you’re not going to punish Dubois, punish the officials involved for not punishing Dubois.
I found an interesting article from 2013, Greg Wyshynski’s article for the now-defunct Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports, where he says the NHL should make public how they punish their officials. I agree. Players are openly punished when they endanger player safety, what about when officials endanger player safety by not doing their jobs?
I also believe that, at the very least, Pierre-Luc Dubois deserved a slap on the wrist. He didn’t even get that. The DoPS has the ability to at least fine Dubois for the play, but chose not to.
As much as I understand the whole “it’s just a hockey play” thing, the more I watch it, the more I’m convinced that it’s further from a hockey play.
Well, now the NHL has to fear the worst. Retaliation from players. I’ll give you an extreme example: The Houston Astros.
For those that don’t know, the Houston Astros are an MLB team that was exposed for electronically stealing signs, something that’s banned in MLB. The players were given immunity in exchange for telling the league what they know, among other reasons.
Players and fans alike felt they got off easy, and have taken punishment into their own hands. A more recent example is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly almost throwing a baseball through Astros’ hitter Carlos Correa’s head.
As much as you’ll see speculation on it, I don’t think any of the Leafs will go out of their way to retaliate against the Columbus Blue Jackets (other than filling their net with pucks). However, as the NHL continues to throw a blind eye for player safety, they have to start bracing for the worst.
As for Muzzin, I was initially concerned for his long-term health, forget his status for the series. Luckily, the Leafs confirmed that Muzzin is back from the hospital, he just won’t be available for the rest of the series against Columbus.
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