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Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

NHL gets it wrong with Tkachuk suspension

Only Matthew Tkachuk could get suspended for being Matthew Tkachuk.

Seriously, that’s what the long-awaited video from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety essentially admitted with one of its most anticipated releases in recent memory. We got it just before the stroke of midnight at NHL headquarters, eight hours after a phone hearing with Tkachuk concluded.

With that much time to prepare, you’d think the league’s disciplinarians would be able to come up with something a little more convincing. But they got this one wrong. So wrong. In so many different ways.

Tkachuk wasn’t blameless for the events that took place on Wednesday night in Detroit against the Red Wings. A fine should have been expected. But citing him as the instigator of the fisticuffs that took place late in the third period takes the burden of blame off the person who truly sparked the entire incident — Luke (Half) Witkowski.

Nearing the end of an 8-2 shellacking of the Flames, the Wings tough guy roughed up young Flames defender Brett Kulak, and after soundly knocking the kid to the ice, gave him an extra body slam for good measure. Tkachuk took exception to the way the fight ended, and who Witkowski picked it with, as well as the timing of it with the game well in hand.

The Flames sophomore stalked Witkowski as he was guided off the ice by a linesman, and then subtly swatted at his ankle as he hit the rubber floor to further express his displeasure. That, apparently, is worth a game off — if you’re Matthew Tkachuk.

The video admits that neither the slash — which was already incorrectly penalized with a five-minute major for spearing, along with a game misconduct — or shoves Tkachuk engaged in after Witkowski returned to the ice for revenge merit supplemental discipline alone. No, it was “the totality of Tkachuk’s actions, combined with his repeat offender status, that escalate this play to merit supplemental discipline.”

Yep, Tkachuk got suspended for being Tkachuk.

His status as a repeat offender comes from his suspension as a rookie last year for an elbow to the face of Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. No argument on that one. This is his first infraction since then, but the sophomore already has a reputation as a disruptor. The league tends to frown on guys that play with an edge.

The reasoning for Tkachuk’s second suspension in as many years has more holes in it than a sieve (insert Eddie Lack joke here).

“The unsportsmanlike conduct of Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk sparked a series of altercations between the Flames and Red Wings,” said the video.

Debatable. Some would argue it was Witkowski’s actions that sparked it. First with his inflammatory actions with Kulak. Then with an inability to control his anger after the love tap, and continue to the dressing room rather than return to the ice to mix it up with Tkachuk and company.

As Philadelphia Flyers reporter Al Morganti tweeted on Thursday, I’ve been poked harder on Facebook.

But the video offered more evidence.

“Players are not permitted to make intentional contact with an opponent who is off the playing surface, especially when it is intended to escalate a confrontation.”

There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, it’s really tough to prove intention while suggesting Tkachuk was actually trying to escalate things. Did he really think Witkowski would be dumb enough to turn around after a one-handed jab to his skates? Probably not. It’s much more logical that Tkachuk was just trying to get in the last word, a pest parting gift of sorts.

Where things get really obvious, though, that this ruling wouldn’t have been the same for another player is a similar example that resulted in fines just a couple of weeks ago.

Alex Killorn of the Tampa Bay Lightning got a $5,000 fine after a spear slightly more legitimate than Tkachuk’s landed on forward Kevin Hayes on the New York Rangers bench earlier this month.

Hayes squirted water at Killorn over the boards. Killorn stuck his stick off the ice and stabbed at Hayes and another Rangers teammate. Fines all around. Killorn, Hayes, and Steven Stamkos — who also squirted water — each got dinged $5,000. Killorn hasn’t been suspended previously, but was eyeballed in 2014 after a sketchy hit from behind on Paul Ranger resulted in the defenceman being stretchered off the ice, and Killorn serving a five-minute boarding major for a play as reckless as Tkachuk’s elbow.

But you don’t have to look outside the Flames/Red Wings game itself for contradiction in the ruling. By definition, the actions of Anthony Mantha’s MMA-style ground and pound on Travis Hamonic in the resulting skirmishes were a perfect example of making contact with a player off the ice surface.

Mantha shoved Hamonic through an open door and then got in at least seven or eight blows while the Flames defencemen has his back on the rubber floor, unable to properly defend himself. If this decision is truly about player safety and not just sending a message to a player with an edge who has crossed the line before, then why didn’t Mantha receive a call?

No supplemental discipline for that one. Apparently, that code-breaking move didn’t contravene the same rules as Tkachuk’s actions, only fuelling the feelings of contempt for NHL justice among players both active and retired.

Without the time for a deep research dive, it’s not clear if anyone in the NHL has been suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct before. But even the repeat-iest of repeat offenders, Sean Avery, got credit for the creation of a new rule as opposed to a suspension for his unsportsmanlike actions in shadow-mocking goalie Martin Brodeur.

Perhaps it’s the antics of the league’s previous superpests — many of them not nearly as talented as Tkachuk — that led the disciplinarians to flex their muscles in the face of the latest and greatest of the breed.

Barring a sequel video with a better explanation, we may never know for sure. But the spearing call was wrong on the ice at the time, and the suspension only further shows just how flawed the system remains.



  • fumanchu1968

    Someone should do a statistical analysis of the Weidman effect to see just how drastic the change has been from before and after he accidentally bumped into that sissy ref.

  • Al Rain

    NHL to Tkachuk:

    “Dude, you’re a good player. But if you keep up that crap you’re going to become a total douche like Corey Perry. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know that most everything you do is intended to escalate confrontations. And you’re good at that. We see your penalty differentials. We see the retaliation and the hatred. We don’t care about that too much but don’t make us look bad with this swatting raging bulls off the ice and starting line brawls, not with all this concussion stuff coming down. Don’t worry about that meathead Witkowski – we’ll deal with him. Keep your edge, but keep it smart, yeah?”

    I think they like him.

    • Carl the tooth

      seriously does Tkachuk come out of this the one who is at fault . I Hated perry but at same time I always wished we had him . I’d compare Tkachuk more to Iginla anyways

      • I am Batman

        Now I understand. You are just not very smart.
        Iginla – the true franchise player from the Flames , And a class act.
        tkachuk – dirty pig is more comparable to Sean Avery, except Sean Avery was funny and dirty pig is just an annoying little coward hit you from behind kind of guy.

        You don’t mention iggy in the same sentence of this piece of poop, unless you are mentally challenged, which if you are, I’m sorry, i apologize.

      • Al Rain

        Tkachuk and Iggy? I don’t see that one. Tkachuk seems to have a higher hockey IQ and is much dirtier than Iggy. Iginla was stronger, a more pure goal scorer (so far) and on a different level as far as class goes.

        I mean, there’s room in the game for both types, but try to picture what a future Trevor Linden would say to Tkachuk late in their careers.

        The Corey Perry comparison keeps coming back to me: smart, sneaky, dirty, effective and loved by the fans of exactly one team.

  • BlueBloods

    I’m still surprised the league has completely ignored what Mantha did … sure Tkachuk gets something for instigating liveable. But wtf nothing for Mantha. Get outta here.

    Nice to see Hammer sticking up for team mates. Something this team has MISSED.

  • Derzie

    The only people OK with this are those that don’t like how Matthew plays. They are not people who care about ‘fair’ or ‘rules’. Just not liking the kid. Look at the Doughty example. Doughty is sneaky and bends/break rules as a big part of his game. The kid called him on his crap and Doughty was furious. It ended with Matthew giving him a hard smack in the mouth with his elbow. Illegal, but very well deserved. The league rightly suspended but ignored the cause: Doughty being an undetected weasel breaking the rules. Same scenario here. If you look at the picture from NHL Safety, Matthew is leaning on his back foot when extending his stick. He’s basically saying “I see you being a sht Detroit plugger, don’t do that”. Hockey types don’t like smart and they don’t like people being called out for being dcks. The NHL is wrong here and so are the supporters of the suspension. Period.

        • Off the wall

          Well, my point is this. We’ve had some tough and exciting hockey players on our roster and still do.

          Gary Roberts, Jarome Iginla, Theo Fluery, Al McInnis, Doug Gilmour were all tough guys to play against (just to name a few)

          They had skill but wouldn’t shy away from confrontation.
          They were heralded as difference- makers on the team.

          I’m disappointed that we need to pick on one member of the team for the way he plays on the edge. It’s not as if Tkachuk’s father was a gentle player, he was renowned for his aggressive play and toughness.

          ‘Chip off the block’ comes to mind. I’ll take any Tkachuk over a gentleman’s player any day. Twice on Sunday.

          Maybe I’m old school, but this game is becoming more pathetic. We’ve slowly eradicated the “ protector” in the game. Now we see the results of no policing. Just my opinion.

          I understand need to protect players, my issue is why do we penalize players for being aggressive, assertive and defensive of their teammates?
          That used to be the enforcers role.

          I for one am happy Hamonic took matters in his hands. I like Hamonic a lot more because of this. He said, ‘enough’and dealt with it. I’m proud of him.

          We watch the toughest sport in the world, yet we condemn the game if we don’t allow our players to defend one another..

  • Skylardog

    I have to disagree with the assessment of the one game. It was deserved, unfortunately.

    The confrontation had concluded, Witless had been in the penalty box, and was now being escorted across the ice by the linesmen to the dressing room. Any contact, has to be considered out of line, either while the player is still on the ice or in particular if the player has stepped off. You cannot have guys attacking or even just contacting players that are being escorted by officials.

    What makes this tough, is that Witless didn’t get 2-3 more games for picking up and tossing Kulak down. That should have been a no brainer and was the instigator of all that happened.

    Mantha should have gotten 2-3 for pounding on Hamonic off ice, and Ferly and Anthanasiou should have got fines or something for their on bench activity.

    And the comparision to Killorn is slightly off. The previous infraction for Killorn was in 2014, and while considered, it holds much less weight than an infraction in the last 12 months, like the Doughty incident with Tkachuk.

    One game was right, but what makes it harsh, is the lack of discipline to the 2 Red Wing offenders whose actions had the potential to be much greater dangers to player safety than Tkachuk’s tap.

  • MontanaMan

    I’m actually okay that Tkachuk got a game. The player had been sent off the ice and I doubt very much that he would have returned had Tkachuk not given him the poke, so in my mind he did instigate the continuation of the fights. Having said that, I don’t understand how Mantha doesn’t get something for continuing to pound Hamonic while he was very vulnerable, despite the linesman being on his back (don’t get me started on how poorly the referees and linesmen handled this incident) and undoubtedly being told it was over. Martha’s day will come but his actions were the most egregious and he gets off with nothing. Not to mention, the NHL did nothing with punches being thrown at players on the ice from both benches. Bizarre.

  • snotss

    nhl is a joke when it comes to discipline…..they seem to get it wrong most of the time…the flames will not get a break from the offials or the nhl brass due to the wideman effect that still seems to still be in effect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • oddclod

    Clearly shoulda been 3rd overall in 2016 looking at Dubois’ stat line LOL and thanks Edmonton & Vancouver, you can go on hating your management every time Tkachuk near incites the next line brawl. Proud of you Chuky! Stay UPP Fam! @oddclod – instagram – outta NYC repping the 403

  • deantheraven

    They got it half wrong.Tkachuk should have been treated the same as in the Killorn case. A fine, and that’s it. I’d like to know how Parros, ex-enforcer who really exemplified ‘living by the code , can justify not sending Mantha away for at least a game. Now I suppose we’ll see retaliation the next time the teams meet, more penalties ‘ and possibly more suspensions. NHL Player Safety Heads are not where they should be.