The Oilers – Golden Knights series is tied at two games apiece, with the action heading back to Las Vegas for game five Friday May 12th. Two incidents in the Oilers 4-1 victory over the Golden Knights in Wednesday’s game put the spotlight on the NHL’s Department of Player Safety once more. Alex Pietrangelo slashed Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl hard across the wrist at 18:33 of the third period as the two came around the right face-off circle in the Golden Knights zone. Pietrangelo had a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety Thursday May 11. Pietrangelo, who received a major penalty and a game misconduct., leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with eighteen points in 10 games. During game 5, Draisaitl put the puck around the net and was chasing it when Pietrangelo slashed him. Draisaitl had clearly released the puck when Pietrangelo came across to slash him, raising his stick, appearing to miss Draisaitl’s face before glancing his stick off Draisaitl’s shoulder and then connecting with his arm/wrist. Draisaitl did not take another shift in the game, but he appears to have escaped a major injury. The Oilers Connor McDavid called for a suspension for Pietrangelo, saying, “I would like to see it suspended…it’s as intent to injure as you can get.” McDavid was correct in his assessment of the incident. The NHL handed down a one game suspension to Pietrangelo late on Thursday May 11.
The Player Safety Department initially stated it was considering supplemental discipline based on the slash, but it reserved the right to make adjustments based upon review. While the Player Safety Department used discretion in determining if a suspension or a fine was appropriate for Pietrangelo, another incident in the same game led to an automatic one game suspension for the Oilers Darnell Nurse and an automatic $10,000 fine for Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft. Nurse received a two-minute instigator penalty, five-minute fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct against Golden Knights defenseman Nicolas Hague with 50 seconds remaining in the third period. The automatic suspension and fine come with violating Rule 46.21, which addresses instigating a fight in the final five minutes of regulation play.
While the supplementary discipline for Nurse and Woodcroft are not at the discretion of the Player Safety Department, Nurse still challenged the idea that he instigated the fight. He commented Thursday, “It’s a fight that takes place between I think two people who were willing to fight…I didn’t go in there and jump him by any means.” Nurse came in from the top of the circles and engaged with Hague, who then threw the first punch. The instigator penalty can be seen as too little, too late from an officiating crew that had already let the game get out of hand.
In a playoffs in which officiating is under intense scrutiny, it is also worth considering, as Pietrangelo and Nurse both face one game suspensions, that fines in the NHL lack teeth and one game or two game suspensions, while detrimental, are unlikely to truly deter players. Per league rules, “players may be fined up to 50% of one day’s average salary without exceeding $10,000 for the first fine and $15,000 for any subsequent fines within a 12 month calendar period.” That means that the maximum fine is $15,000. NHL fines are like five minute penalties for fighting – they lend just enough of a veneer of respectability to keep things like potentially dangerous slashes to the wrist in the game.