NHL Week That Was – September 16-22, 2018

by | Sep 23, 2018 | Soapbox

A brief review and analysis of some of the past week’s notable NHL news.

Domi’s suspension

Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi was suspended for the remainder of the 2018 preseason. (Photo via NHL Images)

Max Domi’s debut with the Montreal Canadiens last Wednesday was memorable for all the wrong reasons. After sucker-punching the Florida Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad in the face and bloodying the defenseman’s nose, the league suspended Domi for the remainder of the preseason.

Ekblad had to leave the game for mandatory concussion protocol, which he passed. His nose wasn’t broken but he was left with two black eyes.

Domi’s actions prompted plenty of criticism but he also had defenders claiming Ekblad goaded the Habs forward with two slashes to the legs. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos questioned if it could be considered a sucker punch since the two were facing each other and Ekblad, despite his unwillingness to fight, had to know the punch was coming.

Despite Domi’s suspension, critics of the NHL Department of Player Safety questioned the severity of the punishment because he won’t miss any regular-season play or lose any salary. They cited Ekblad’s remarks about settling scores the next time the teams meet as an example of a broken disciplinary system where players have to sort things out for themselves.

Domi deserved a suspension for his actions. Losing his temper and punching an opponent doesn’t help his club if it results in a match penalty and keeps him out of other games. While Domi still gets to practice with his teammates, his suspension means the Canadiens can’t properly evaluate his performance under game situations before the start of the regular season.

Being league disciplinarian can be a thankless job. They’ll never fully please everyone with their rulings. However, the Department of Player Safety brought much of the criticism upon themselves with years of questionable rulings involving often mild punishments for egregious infractions. Until that improves, their decisions will continue to be second-guessed by fans and pundits.

Four More RFAs Re-signed

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart and New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood finally re-signed with their respective clubs.

Three of them accepted received two-year “bridge contracts”, with Morrissey getting $6.3 million ($3.15 annual average value), Nurse $6.4 million ($3.2 million AAV) and Reinhart $7.3 million ($3.65 million AAV). Wood received a lower annual salary ($2.75 million) but accepted a longer term with his four-year deal.

Makes one wonder why they waited so long to get those contracts hammered out, rather than costing those players a week of training camp. The players’ stance would be understandable if their teams were playing hardball for lesser money. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The Nurse camp, for example, reportedly valued their client at, or slightly above, $4 million annually. Given Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli’s penchant for handing out big raises, Nurse might’ve gotten it if the Oilers had more salary-cap room this summer. Once Morrissey signed his deal, however, Nurse’s market value was pretty much set.

Each of these players were coming off entry-level contracts and lacked salary arbitration. The only leverage they had was withholding their services. As we’ve seen in the salary-cap world, that tactic rarely works.

Three unsigned RFAs remain: Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander, Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore and Anaheim Ducks winger Nick Ritchie. Like the others, they’ve also completed entry-level deals.

As the regular season draws near, all could soon be under contract terms dictated by their clubs at the cost of missing most of training camp.

Dotchin’s Conditioning

Eyebrows were raised around the league when the Tampa Bay Lightning recently placed defenseman Jake Dotchin on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.

Dotchin, 24, is a depth defenseman who saw 83 games with the Lightning over the last two seasons. After he cleared waivers last Saturday, reports emerged claiming the club cited his physical conditioning as a material breach of his contract.

On Wednesday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie revealed Dotchin reported to camp over 30 pounds over his playing weight of 210 lbs. Rather that simply suspend him, the Lightning opted to end his contract.

The NHL Players Association is reportedly filing a grievance and this could be headed before an arbiter. The concern is this could set a precedent allowing teams to use conditioning as an excuse to terminate contracts, perhaps as a way of getting out from under a bad deal.

In the Lightning’s case, they’re not getting a significant cap break by shedding Dotchin’s contract. He only had a year remaining on his deal worth $812K.

Should the arbiter decide in favor of Dotchin he’ll return to the Lightning. However, McKenzie observes that could create an awkward situation between the blueliner and management. The two sides could end up reaching a settlement in which the Lightning buy out the remainder of his contract.