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How will the NHL approach potential suspensions to Darnell Nurse and Alex Pietrangelo?

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Zach Laing
11 months ago
Never mind the fact there are two potentially series-defining games on the NHL schedule tonight, the soup de jour today will be what the NHL does with Darnell Nurse and Alex Pietrangelo.
There’s a significant chance both players will face supplemental discipline from the league today after incidents in Wednesday night’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights.
Pietrangelo could, and should, be facing suspension for at least game five after a malicious two-handed slash to Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl. It came with a minute and a half left in the third period, and was well after the play where Draisaitl had tried to score on an empty net.
On Thursday morning, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced Pietrangelo would indeed have a hearing.
Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who went after Pietrangelo for the slash, said he hopes the NHL suspends him for it.
“It’s as intent to injure as you can get,” said McDavid after the game. “Time, score, clock all play a factor.
“He comes from over his own head and places (the slash) just under Leon’s chin. You’d like to see something like that suspended, that’s not a hockey play.”
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft didn’t have much to say on the incident other than that he “would not define it as a hockey play” and that “I’m sure people will look at it.”
What did have to say, however, was lots about a fight between Darnell Nurse and Nic Hague that took place with 40 seconds left in the game. Hague, who had kneed Zach Hyman in game three, had been in the grill of a few Oilers players, namely Nurse, and the latter had asked the former to fight at the end of game three’s 5-1 Vegas win.
While Hague wouldn’t oblige then, he sure did last night as the two dropped the mitts.
“I saw the play going on, I saw Darnell wrap somebody up, two guys bear-hugging each other,” said Woodcroft.“I saw their player with his gloves off first. I saw their player throw eight punches. So to me, that’s two willing combatants.
“It’s not like somebody was turtled up in a ball. I saw two willing combatants. And as I said, I believe it started with the Vegas Golden Knight player 14 had his gloves off first and he threw the first eight punches.”
The problem here for the Oilers is that Nurse was issued a two-minute minor on the play for instigating the fight and according to the NHL rulebook, that comes with an automatic one-game suspension and a $10,000 fine for the head coach, pending a review by the NHL’s director of hockey operations.
So yeah, lots on the go here.
There are a few ways that this could be handled by the league including, but not limited to: suspending both players for one game, rescinding Nurse’s suspension, not giving Pietrangelo any supplemental discipline, giving Pietrangelo just a fine, or washing their hands clean of the entire situation.
I don’t think it’s going to be the last one, but who knows when it comes to this league.
In my mind, the simplest route the league could take would be to suspend Pietrangelo for one game for the slash, and uphold Nurse’s automatic one-game suspension. It would allow for things to cool off, I suppose, especially as it pertains to Pietrangelo, and allow for there to be “equal punishment” for both sides.
The instigator rule, as a reminder, is handed out to a player who “by his actions or demeanour demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance travelled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.”
The problem is that when it comes to Nurse’s situation, the look isn’t too good at all for the Oilers. They had been on a power play with 1:27 left on the clock and the five players sent out on the ice were Warren Foegele, Nick Bjugstad, Klim Kostin, Darnell Nurse and Vincent Desharnais.
Not exactly the Oilers’ top power play unit by any sense of the term.
This, I imagine, is what the league would use in an argument to try and uphold the suspension. The Oilers, who are unable to appeal the suspension if it stands, would likely argue that these players were put out on the ice simply due to the fact that the Golden Knights had been aggressors in multiple incidents Wednesday night and even continued to be after the fight. It may have slipped under the radar, but Brett Howden was issued a misconduct and a goaltender interference call for skating too close, and eventually nicking Stuart Skinner twice.
While I despise the instigator rule, I tend to side with Jay Woodcroft out of this whole ordeal. I mean look, Nic Hague knows what he’s doing. He knew what he has been doing all series long, and he surely knew that at some point he was going to have to answer the bell for his actions. Nurse asked him to fight at the end of game three, but he said no.
That’s just the code.
In the fight last night, the gloves for both players flew miles high into the air at the same time, and Woodcroft’s right in saying that Hague was the one who landed the first multitude of blows.
Distance travelled be damned, this was a fight between two players who were happy to do what they were doing.
However, there’s precedence for Nurse’s suspension to be rescinded. In a April 19, 2015 playoff game between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, Alex Burrows caught Johnny Gaudreau in a bad position driving him into the boards. Flames defenceman Kris Russell came over to have a chat, and the two fought. Burrows was given an instigating penalty on the play, but the automatic one-game suspension was pulled back by the league in that instance.
How that will translate to the fight between Nurse and Hague remains to be scene, but at the very least, the fact there’s precedence for the suspension being removed could play to the Oilers’ benefit.
At the end of the day, things are out of the hands of not only the Edmonton Oilers, but the Vegas Golden Knights too, and both teams could be feeling the effects of losing a top-pairing defenceman.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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