Colorado Avalanche Defenseman Erik Johnson Suspended 2 Games

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 16: Erik Johnson
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 16: Erik Johnson /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has been suspended two games for boarding Vladislav Namestnikov.

The Colorado Avalanche will be without their best defenseman, Erik Johnson, for two games thanks to the NHL Department of Player Safety’s shenanigans.

Late in the second period of the Colorado Avalanche against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Johnson did this to Vladislav Namestnikov:

For that he received a total of 17 minutes penalties, including a game misconduct. The DoPS has supplemented the discipline with a two-game suspension.

In the video explaining the supplemental discipline, the DoPS explains that Johnson is getting a two-game suspension because that play constitutes boarding. According to the NHL Rule Book, boarding goes into effect when “any player …checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously.”

Now, yes, by that rule Johnson boarded Namestnikov. However, the penalty for boarding ranges from a two-minute minor to a game misconduct to suspension. Johnson got a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding already.

The problem is that according to the Rule Book itself, “There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the referees.” There are no clear cut guidelines.

Let’s contrast that with high sticking. If a player gets hit in the face with a high stick, even if it’s accidental contact (and his name isn’t Nathan MacKinnon), the offender will get two minutes for high sticking. The only thing that negates that is if the player was completing a follow-through on a shot. Additionally, if the victim of the high stick is bleeding, the offender gets an additional two minutes.

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That’s very clear cut. You hit a guy in the head with your stick, you get a minor penalty. The referee sees blood — double minor.

Instead, boarding is left very nebulous. There are a lot of questions left up in the air. Did the victim put himself in a defenseless position at the last second? Did the boarding player do enough to minimize contact if the player in front of him goes into a vulnerable position?

How violent is violent? Does grinding a player’s head into the boards with your ass count? Not when Joe Thornton did it to T.J. Oshie. But if a player gets injured, then the NHL DoPS takes action, right? Again, not in Oshie’s case — he’s still out with a concussion.

Not in Colorado Avalanche rookie Tyson Jost‘s case either — he was violently boarded by Adam McQuaid, missed a month, and… nothing from the Department of Player “Safety.”

Oh, my bad — they didn’t even call that boarding even though McQuaid checks a defenseless Jost “in such a manner that causes [Jost] to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously.”

Going back to the Erik Johnson situation, even the DoPS admits in the video how subjective the call is:

"“It is important to note that Johnson is in control of this play at all times. He is tracking Namestnikov the length of the ice. So, he is fully aware of the speed with which Namestnikov is traveling, and his proximity to the boards. Therefore, while the shove itself may not be overly violent or forceful, the timing of its delivery sends a defenseless Namestnikov dangerously into the boards.”"

Yes, Johnson did a year of college, but do you really expect him to do complex physics equations in a split second? I’m guessing even Harvard grad Alexander Kerfoot might find that a bit challenging.

Oh, by the way, Namestnikov was not injured. He rolled around on the ice for awhile, but there was no blood — he crashed into the boards with his forearms and gloves mostly. It just looks especially violent because of how fast he’s going. But he didn’t miss even one shift.

Johnson, on the other hand, will miss the Colorado Avalanche games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and against the LA Kings.

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I’m not saying that the hit defenseman Erik Johnson laid on Namestnikov is fine. I’m saying the DoPS has no business meddling in NHL affairs. They’re not doing so with an even hand. By their own admission, most of what they do is subjective. You can’t even go off the old “Injury = supplemental discipline” equation.

I think it’s either time to completely overhaul the DoPS in terms of true parity, or it’s time to disband this useless entity. No player is any safer than he was even 10 years ago when DoPS head George Parros was enforcing his way across the NHL.

I daresay, players were safer back then.