It’s hard to argue that Dustin Byfuglien‘s cross-check to the neck of New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller was anything but dirty.
When the league announced he would receive a phone hearing to address supplemental discipline, few were surprised. If anything, the bigger shock wasn’t that he was facing the Department of Player Safety — it was that they weren’t giving him the option to face them in person. There wasn’t even an in-person hearing mentioned; it went straight to the phone.
Set for Thursday morning, the league began to get antsy as the day went by without a verdict — but per the Department of Player Safety themselves, Byfuglien will miss the next four games played by the Winnipeg Jets. Not only was he suspended, he was given a hefty suspension, at that.
As the video states, Miller is clearly defenseless, the hit is malicious, and the puck is far out of play at that point — making this the trifecta of intent to harm, a defenseless victim, and a late hit.
Considering this, it seems like four games is nothing. Byfuglien — who has never been suspended, sitting on a disciplinary record that includes nothing beyond three fines — will be back in time for the season to close; should the Jets see the post-season, he’ll be there to contribute both heading into the playoffs and once they arrive. The hit is more luck than anything; had Miller received a concussion from hitting the ice — or, worse, sustained permanent damage to his neck or the back of his head — few would have been shocked, given the nature of the hit. It was inexcusable, and there’s no real way to argue it was an accident. Unlike the majority of suspensions and fines the league has delivered over the last few weeks, this isn’t a late hit or an avoidable play; this was probably the most vicious check the league has had to review since Philadelphia Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo launched himself into a blindside check on Pittsburgh Penguins blue liner Kris Letang.
Very rarely do players get four games without a history of discipline, though. The last four-game suspension delivered was to Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri, who was on his second suspension for an illegal check to the head. For a first time offender, two to three games is more traditional — the fact that Byfuglien got four alludes (and rightfully so) to the serious nature of the hit; it also increases the chances of Byfuglien seeing a lengthier suspension in the future, regardless of what he may get called on.
For the Winnipeg Jets, this is about as good as they could have asked for without being unfair to the Rangers. It may harm their playoff chances, but Byfuglien has missed a number of games already this year with injuries — if they can handle four games without the large, versatile skater, they’re likely to see the post-season.
Prior to being suspended, Byfuglien was averaging 22:40 TOI as both a forward and a blue liner, and has contributed eighteen goals and twenty-seven assists over sixty-eight appearances.