The NHL has handed down it's ruling in regards to Dmitry Kulikov, and there's no doubt that many will feel the Department of Player Safety left off the Florida Panthers defenseman with too light a sentence. Kulikov has been suspended just four games after taking out Tyler Seguin's legs with a low hit in open ice on Friday night.
Kulikov has never been in this sort of trouble with the NHL before and that likely led to this relatively light sentence, but it's going to be tough for Stars fans seeing that Seguin will likely miss at least four weeks with this injury while his team is fighting an uphill battle for the playoffs.
Trying to be as subjective as possible here...
The "intent" of the hit here is impossible to bring into the conversation, as it really did look like a hip check that went horribly wrong -- I don't think I've ever seen a player take someone's knees out with their shoulder before in a hit like this one. That it was 'dirty' is just another way of saying the hit was illegal, which it obviously was, and Kulikov has been punished for that aspect.
On top of that, there's no real precedent for a hit like this in recent NHL memory. Brad Marchand was suspended five games for a similar hit on Sami Salo, but he had been considered a repeat offender at the time -- Kulikov is not. That's about it.
While it's tough to see such a light punishment for a hit that takes out the top player of the Dallas Stars, I have always maintained in these cases the NHL has to find a way to focus on the hit itself and not the affected player and/or injury -- either a hit is illegal or it isn't, and it doesn't matter who was hit or whether they were injured or not. If Seguin had somehow escaped this hit without injury, it doesn't make the hit any less dangerous and illegal.
Injuries are such fickle beasts (the same hit that left a player with a concussion could leave another player with no injury), and with the Stars season now very much in jeopardy without Seguin, this will be seen by many in Dallas as a very light punishment for a pretty devastating hit for both the team and for their leading scorer.
Of course, the NHL openly states they take injuries into account when doling out punishments, so...take the above point with a grain of salt.
It's still much less than expected, especially given this was an in-person hearing. A suspension of at least five or six games seemed to be warranted and four games is getting off a bit light -- Kulikov wasn't going to get suspended for 10 or more games for this hit, no matter how much Dallas Stars fans wanted it to happen.
In the end, however, this still feels like Kulikov got off light because a) he doesn't have a reputation as a player who does this sort of thing and b) for whatever reason, the outrage over the hit and injury to Seguin isn't nearly as much as feels it would be if another star player had been taken out like this.
Imagine if Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos had their knees taken out with this hit, while leading the NHL in scoring, and would likely miss 6 weeks with an injury....but that's an issue that is true across all sports, and not just the NHL.
All of that above being said, you'd think an illegal, open-ice hit that could have completely destroyed the knees of a young NHL superstar would have met with a bit more harsher judgment, but this is the NHL and the Wheel of Justice just continues to spin....
Here's the video explanation: