The Toronto Maple Leafs Must Question NHL Department of Player Safety

Toronto Maple Leafs - Travis Dermott (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs - Travis Dermott (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott was the victim of a dangerous hit. George Parros, the head of NHL’s Department of Player Safety may disagree.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been quiet about any dissatisfaction they may have with the way their games have been officiated this season.

The quality of referees in the NHL is incredibly high, but Leafs management has a legitimate gripe over a play that went uncalled during the Dec. 17 game against the Buffalo Sabres.

With the Buds on the road, Travis Dermott went back behind his own net to retrieve the puck.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Referees

While his teammates were calling for him to reverse it, he spun around sending the pass back from where he came.

Dermott had clearly released the puck from his possession when he was violently thrown into the boards with the primary impact occurring on his back. He was the victim of a blindside hit by Kyle Okposo.

This hit can be interpreted in one of two ways, either it was a late or it was a check from behind. There was no call on the play, but at the very least there should have been a minor penalty assessed to Okposo for interference. This would be applied if it was determined that Dermott no longer had possession of the puck when Okposo was making contact.

Many of those who saw Dermott launched into the boards with the numbers of his jersey flattened by Okposo’s forearm, called for further action.

Okposo should have been assessed a five-minute major and ejected from the game with an accompanying game misconduct for checking from behind. This is because there is no minor penalty for this infraction and a game misconduct is automatically assessed whenever a major penalty is applied for checking from behind.

Rule 43.3 in the NHL rulebook clarifies that “Any player who cross-checks, pushes or charges from behind an opponent who is unable to protect or defend himself, shall be assessed a major penalty. This penalty applies anywhere on the playing surface.”

Comparing Okposo’s hit to some recent ones can leave fans scratching their heads by the referees and league’s inaction. Samuel Girard was just fined $1,957.89, which is the minimum monetary penalty allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The fine was levied in response to his boarding penalty on Chicago Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat.

How Does it Compare to Zach Hyman’s Hit?

Earlier this month, the Maple Leafs lost Zach Hyman for two games to suspension for his interference on Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy.

Many pundits, including Glenn Healy, agreed that the hit was late and a suspension was deserved. The problem remains that the NHL needs to remain consistent and suspend all similar checks.

Hyman’s hit may have been a dirty one, but so too was Okposo’s. While referees may miss a play in real-time, George Parros and NHL Player Safety have the luxury to review a play from multiple angles to determine whether consequences are warranted.

This makes Alexander Kerfoot’s suspension for boarding Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson even more curious. Kerfoot hit Johnson directly in the back propelling him into the end boards with a nasty looking hit. He was given two games for what appeared to be a far more reckless play than Hyman’s.

Leafs fans aren’t the only ones screaming at their screens, asking for justice when their favourite team or player becomes the victim of an illegal play.

A more egregious missed call was the one delivered by Ryan Ellis of the Nashville Predators on Pavel Buchnevich. The entire blow was absorbed by Buchnevich’s head, leaving him in a heap on the ice.

Ellis extended his elbow prior to making contact, which is why he received a two-minute minor penalty. The Rangers believed that further discipline was deserved, though it never came.

Injuries Play a Role

Buchnevich missed just seven minutes while he underwent concussion protocol. He then returned to finish the game. His escape from injury may be the reason that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety felt that no additional penalty was required.

The league appears to be setting a dangerous precedent. A double standard exists for plays where injuries are suffered and when ones aren’t.

If a team is playing a rival, it may be in their best interest to have a player leave the game after a questionable hit. If additional discipline gets triggered mostly due to injuries, teams may choose to give the appearance than their player was hurt. This sort of gamesmanship would be caused because of the system that teams see exist.

To avoid this, the NHL must demonstrate that all dirty hits get reviewed and discipline is handed out according to the act, not just the results.

Dermott getting leveled should have resulted in a penalty.

And the Toronto Maple Leafs should be angry about this.  They are one of the NHL’s least penalized teams, and since the hiring of Sheldon Keefe they are averaging almost a minute less penalty time than the 30th place team.

A player hasn’t been suspended for an infraction against the Leafs in years.

If one wants to argue that the hit didn’t warrant a fine or suspension then they must also recognize that other players’ discipline this season may have been too harsh. It’s not a perfect science, but the NHL needs to work on finding a way to be consistent.

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If there is any good news for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s that Dermott came away unscathed from the big hit. Going into the winter break, the players’ health is certainly of more importance to the team than an Okposo suspension.