Now that I’ve had a little more time to think about it, the 3-game suspension for Carl Hagelin doesn’t bother me too much on its own. Even if he only hit Alfredsson with his elbow accidentally (Alfie did move his head and bring up his stick right before contact), Hagelin still would’ve caught him up high and done some damage. It seemed like he was leaving his feet. Alfredsson missed the rest of the game and still may not play tonight. 3 games for Hagelin is harsh, but it isn’t outlandish. Players were getting 5 games for elbows to the head causing injuries, and 3 for a guy who seemed to do it accidentally and has no history of disciplinary issues (honestly, he probably needs a GPS to find the penalty box) is fair.
Rangers fans are generally pretty furious with the suspension, though, because it didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened days after Shea Weber received a fine and no suspension for basically palming Hank Zetterberg’s head and slamming it into the glass. It also happened a period after Matt Carkner sought out Brian Boyle to get back at him for throwing some rabbit punches at an unwilling Erik Karlsson in Game 1. Seeking out Boyle for a fight would’ve been one thing, but Carkner’s attack was probably as close as we’ll get in the playoffs to felony assault. He came in high with a crosscheck on Boyle’s blind side, sucker punched him twice in the face, then punched him 5 times in the ribs while he was on the ground. Carkner’s defense was that he expected Boyle to fight back, which I wouldn’t have trouble buying if Carkner had actually, you know, given Boyle an opportunity to respond to a challenge as opposed to jumping him without warning and essentially trying to injure him. Carkner has been previously suspended for doing exactly the same thing earlier this year when he sucker punched an Islander multiple times in the face and broke his orbital bone. He got a game misconduct and is suspended for tonight as well.
Considering his prior suspension, his intent and the sheer viciousness of the play, the fact that Carkner is regularly healthy scratched, and in the previous 13 games he dressed he played more than 9:00 minutes only 1 time, a 1 game suspension seems light but probably wouldn’t have had much of an effect on the series even if he got more games. What makes it feel so shitty is that Dubi missed the whole game since the refs missed the attack on Boyle and he went in to rescue his teammate. A team leader and key special teams player for the Rangers missing the rest of the game for that feels… well, kind of yucky for lack of a better term.
There’s also the issue of suspending to injury. If Alfredsson is scheduled to play tonight, the Rangers will be able to appeal the Hagelin suspension (as of now he’s apparently 50/50) and probably get it reduced by a game. That would feel better. But what nags me about this is that intent is much less of a factor than result, and that seems like backwards logic. Objectively it’s pretty fair to say Hagelin’s hit was reckless but accidental, whereas Carkner jumping Boyle was reckless, intentional and wildly excessive. The suspensions differ because Alfie got concussed and Boyle wasn’t injured.
I understand the need to discipline Hags for his hit on Alfie, both for his actions and the result of the hit. But to suspend Carkner less severely than Haglein just because Boyle didn’t get hurt seems deeply wrong. I’ve never understood this approach to discipline on any level; for example, I don’t understand why an attempted murder charge doesn’t fetch the same punishment as a regular murder charge. Why do you punish someone less just because either (A) they’re shitty at murdering people or (B) the person they attempted to murder is tough as nails and survives? I don’t view the two crimes any differently because the intent was the same: to kill. The result seems irrelevant to me.
Obviously I’m using a hyperbolic example, but it still illustrates my point. Carkner wasn’t making a hockey play or trying to follow the enforcers’ code, he assaulted Brian Boyle to hurt him to get revenge. Hagelin was trying to make a clean hit and hockey play but he made a reckless mistake that ended up hurting Dan Alfredsson.
Accidental injuries will always be a part of the game, attacks like the one Carkner unleashed on Boyle are the sort of plays the NHL needs to get rid of. Neither of the incidents deserves to go unpunished, but it will never feel right to me that the message the NHL is sending is that intent matters less than result.