Matthew Tkachuk was all over the scoresheet in the Calgary Flames’ 3-2 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. He had an assist on Calgary’s power play goal in the first period. He drew three separate minor penalties. But he also took two minors of his own in the third period, which required his team’s penalty kill come up with a pair of big kills to keep the game tied. Tkachuk’s second penalty, officially a roughing call on Marco Scandella, has raised a few eyebrows for being a pretty obvious headbutt.
Will the Flames rookie be getting a phone call from the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety and be levied a suspension or fine for his actions?
First off, a suspension is unlikely. No NHL player has been suspended for a headbutt since 2011-12, when Patrick Kaleta missed four games after headbutting Jakub Voracek. The suspension video in Kaleta’s case cited several instances of similar actions by him in the past, leading them to conclude that his actions were intentional and recommended a suspension (despite Voracek not being injured on the play). He was not levied a headbutting penalty on the play in question. Nate Prosser was suspended one game for a headbutt later that season after being given a major penalty and a game misconduct.
More recently, Andrew Shaw (then of the Blackhawks) escaped without a suspension in 2014-15 after being thrown out of a game in the second period for headbutting Brock Nelson. The Department of Player Safety ruled that the punishment within the game – a major penalty and a game misconduct – was sufficient given the circumstances.
Based on these most recent precedents, it’s likely the combination of (a) the lack of apparent injury to Scandella and (b) the lack of an NHL history of discipline-worthy incidents involving Tkachuk to this point make a suspension unlikely. This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be deserved: the play was definitely reckless and in seeming retaliation to Scandella’s cross-check. It’s just difficult to justify a suspension in the context of recent NHL disciplinary decisions.
That said, the standard that has to be met to justify a fine is a lot lower. Under the league’s rules, they have the ability to review any incident – whether or not there’s a penalty on a particular play – and levy additional discipline if they deem it necessary. Fining Tkachuk to dissuade him from similar actions in the future may be warranted. Under the CBA, the maximum fine Tkachuk can be levied is half of one day’s pay – or roughly $2,500.
Speaking to the media following the game Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan indicated that he hadn’t seen a replay of the particular incident, but expressed disappointment in Tkachuk taking a pair of penalties late in the game.