Chalk up another head-scratching move by the NHL's department of player safety.
After doing his best Captain Hook impression while delivering a pitchfork-style spear to the face of Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon, Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist was handed a six-game suspension by the league on Wednesday.
The suspension is Nyquist's first of his career, which surely played a role in the light punishment delivered by the league, and will force him to sit out the Red Wings' next six contests while forfeiting $158,333.34 US in salary, which goes directly to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
The penalty is the exact number of games that Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith received at the end of last season when he was disciplined for intentionally swinging his stick and connecting with Charlie Coyle's head. Keith's punishment was actually more severe as he was forced to miss the Blackhawks' first playoff game last April against the Blues, a series Chicago went on to lose in seven games after dropping Game 1 without its all-world blueliner.
Nyquist's squeaky-clean history and the fact that Spurgeon returned to the game seemingly uninjured surely played a big factor in the NHL's decision. Intent, however, apparently was not considered. Or was it? I think it was. I have no idea.
"This is not an accidental or inadvertent high stick delivered by a player who is swatting at a puck in mid-air or who simply fails to control his stick in traffic. Rather, as Nyquist stated during a hearing regarding this incident, he acts in retaliation for being cross-checked from behind," said the NHL in one its most confusing suspension explanation videos ever.
The league went on to say that Nyquist didn't intend to high-stick Spurgeon but wanted to respond with a cross check. He was apparently attempting to get his stick around the Wild defenseman and in position to deliver a retaliatory cross check when the blade of his stick accidentally struck Spurgeon in the face.
A suspension was warranted regardless of his intentions, the league said, because he was attempting to use his stick in a retaliatory fashion and he is "completely responsible" for using his stick to deliver a dangerous blow that could have resulted in a severe injury.
Upon trying to decipher some kind of clear meaning behind the league's video explanation, it's obvious that despite admitting his intention to commit a vicious act with his stick in retaliation to Spurgeon's hit, Nyquist has been let off the hook because he was intending to deliver a cross check rather than a spear to the face. In classic NHL fashion, the explanation of the discipline—just like the discipline itself—is confusing and contradictory.
The only thing to really take from all of this is the NHL's feelings that high-sticking is bad, but cross-checking is fine—just make sure you don't spear someone in the face if your intention was to deliver a harmless cross check to the back. If the NHL is trying to trick people into thinking it actually cares about player safety, it's doing a pretty shitty job.