The NHL has suspended Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski eight games for this hit Wednesday night on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook.
The court of public opinion came down on both sides almost as soon as the hit was levied. In the end, the only opinion that mattered was the one issued by Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice president of hockey operations:
“Mr. Wisniewski delivered a retaliatory hit to the head of an opponent who never had possession of the puck. The fact that Mr. Wisniewski is a repeat offender also entered into this decision.”
The Ducks will be without Wisniewski, their third defenseman in terms of minutes played, until the final five games of the regular season beginning April 3 against the Kings. Accordingly, he forfeits $268,292.72 in salary, based on the number of games in the season (82), rather than the number of days (193). The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Through a team spokesperson, Wisniewski issued this statement in response:
“I am truly sorry that my friend Brent Seabrook was hurt on the play. I certainly wish him the best. I am, however, very disappointed in the length of the suspension. Eight games is incredibly hard to swallow, especially in comparison to other recent hits that have resulted in lesser punishment.”
Here’s a sampling of what Wisniewski had to say this morning, after pleading his case on a conference call with Campbell and Ducks general manager Bob Murray:
“It was just a regular hit. I didn’t use my elbows, I didn’t try to hit him in the head – or I didn’t hit him in the head. I really think my face collided with his, and that was a result of what happened.”
“If in my past I do fight, or occasionally will fight. If I felt like I was going after him to do something like that, he has the respect of me, being friends, that he would honor that. I’ve never gone around and just hit people without the puck. It’s not football. So that’s the thing. It’s not like I thought I was doing that at the time. It’s a fast game. It happened in a split second. I thought he played the puck – finish the hit. Now I look back, he didn’t play the puck.”
“The thing is I didn’t mean or want to hurt Seabs. He’s a buddy of mine.”
The two players lived together during Wisniewski’s rookie season as a member of the Blackhawks. Wisniewski said he sent Seabrook a text message after last night’s game and left him a voicemail this morning.
Amidst these offerings of peace came a much stronger declaration from Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.
“We can argue the Ovechkin hit (on Campbell),” Quenneville said in reference to the hit on Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell Sunday. “But (Wisniewski’s hit) is a different category. It’s not up to me to decide what’s next, but it’s the most dangerous hit in the game.”
Wisniewski’s response to that accusation was equally direct: “He’s not happy with a couple defensemen going down recently. For him to call it the worst hit in the history of the game is a little overboard. I mean it’s not like I came in there with elbows, cross-check to the head. Unfortunately if he didn’t get hit in the head, knocked out with a concussion, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman explained the decision during a radio segment on the NHL Network Thursday, saying: “In that case, unlike some of these others, there was no puck possession, the hitting involved rising up to make contact with the head, and so the circumstances gave rise to being able to punish what we have previously defined — long before this season — as illegal acts on the ice.”
A rash of recent hits– including the one on Campbell that landed Ovechkin a two-game suspension – may have contributed to Wisniewski’s punishment. Wisniewski conceded as much, saying “it’s probably the worst timing, from like all the stuff that’s been happening. If something like that happened – they’re talking about hits to the head. It wasn’t a hit to the head deliberately. So it’s bad luck.”