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Jamie Oleksiak Suspended Two Games as NHL Gets One Right

The NHL is notoriously uneven about enforcing its own standards for suspensions for dangerous hits, but Jamie Oleksiak’s two-game suspension was the right call.

Dallas Stars v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

The Dallas Stars will be without defenseman Jamie Oleksiak for the next two games, and Oleksiak's wallet will be a little lighter, after he was handed a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head in Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Here is the official suspension video:

I've seen a lot of people on Twitter complaining that because of precedents set by the NHL earlier this year, specifically invovling a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks, that this suspension is unfair. So what makes this different than the oft-discussed Nazim Kadri hit on Daniel Sedin that had all of Canada in a tizzy about a month ago? The biggest issue is head contact.

Kadri hit a twisting Sedin with a shoulder to the chest that then slid into potential (though little, if it was there) head contact after the initial burst. Sedin was blown off his feet (and his improperly fitted helmet flew off, both making the whole thing look a lot more dramatic than it had to be and putting him at risk of injury from the ice itself), but the contact was through the body first, then the head.

Oleksiak, on the other hand, went through the head first with minimal follow up body contact. Chris Vandevelde was also twisting (and his helmet stayed on), which led to his head being exposed, but Oleksiak's mis-timed drive by meant he picked the head rather than put a shoulder into the chest. You can see Vandevelde's head snap to the side without his chest also moving backwards at the initial point of Oleskiak's contact very clearly in the NHL's video.

I can hear the cries of unfairness already, and yes, part of the reason Oleksiak picked the head of Vandevelde and Kadri did not when he hit Sedin was that there was a significant height disparity between the two players last night that didn't exist in the other case. Kadri is an inch shorter than Sedin, after all, while Oleksiak is listed at five inches taller than Vandevelde.

But the act of being taller does not excuse head contact. It is a risk factor inherent in the advantage that comes with a longer stride and reach. We see this in high sticking, where a stick carried below Oleksiak's shoulders could very well hit Tyler Johnson in his 5-foot-9 head and properly receive a penalty. The onus is still on the person carrying the stick/carrying out the hit to recognize the height differential and make the hit safely.

The better gripe, as Owen Newkirk pointed out, is that the Blues' Joel Edmundson was given nothing for what appeared to be a similar blindside hit on Johnny Oduya all the way back in Game 10. In my mind, that should have been a suspension, and given the dangers of concussions and head injuries, I'd rather they err on the side of more suspensions when these cases are clear cut even with bad precedents. And if anyone has a clip of that play, please feel free to share it. I couldn't find any easily available.

Was last night’s incident a particularly malicious hit? I don't think so. I think Oleksiak mistimed what he wanted to be a shoulder check to an eligible puck carrier because Vandevelde shot the puck (and thus pulled up his own momentum) just before Oleksiak got there. From a tactical perspective, it's also worth noting Oleksiak creates a poor defensive situation going for this hit because both defensemen and the center on the line are within about 10 feet of each other, but it's a risk he can take given the Flyers appear to be changing lines behind the play. So the reason for the hit is legitimate, if perhaps ill-conceived, but the execution was dangerous.

Two games is the general going rate for non-injury, non-offender Rule 48 violations. Given that, and given this was a clear example, there's not much the Stars can argue about here.