It was a surprise for everyone watching — Coyotes fans and Penguins fans, media members, and even other players — when Shane Doan‘s hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang went unpenalized.
The hit itself was clean in nature; that’s not the issue at hand. Doan doesn’t launch upward into the hit, finishes the check without any sudden redirections, and keeps his elbows down. His skates don’t show an upward motion, and he’s not coming from behind — for a play to be considered dirty, whether intentially or not, those are all indicators that the Department of Player Safety has shown a history of checking for.
What the hit is, though, is late — very late.
Doan comes in to lay the hit on Letang well after the puck has cleared Letang’s stick — so although it would have been a full, clean, open-ice check had the puck been in Letang’s possession at the time, that’s not the case. The play had been cleared in enough time prior to the hit for Doan to make the decision to avoid checking the Pittsburgh defenseman — and as such, it’s a hit that shows precedent from the DoPS of warranting suspension.
Since Letang didn’t make any ‘sudden movements’ to force Doan’s path to harm him, the burden of safety in the play is on the veteran captain; as a negligent play, he could receive a hearing from the league.
How much punishment should he receive, though?
First time offenders who only receive a two minute minor — or no in-game discipline at all, as was the case in this situation — often see a suspension lasting anywhere from one to three games. First time offenders who are given a game misconduct often see no supplemental discipline at all, especially if the subsequent play directly puts their team down a goal.
For Doan, though, his team wasn’t affected negatively by the hit — it could even be argued that they were affected positively, since play continued at even strength without Pittsburgh’s primary top-pairing blue liner — and he’s a repeat offender; as such, anywhere from two to four games wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. Since Letang didn’t return to the game, that also works against Doan’s favor — when the injured player is able to return to the ice to finish out a contest, that can occasionally influence whether the offender receives supplemental discipline for a play or not.
Without Doan, the Coyotes would be without the services of one of the few remaining veterans they have in their lineup — after the captain, the next most senior players are center Kyle Chipchura and winger Dave Moss, who are both primarily deployed in bottom six minutes most efficiently. That would leave center Mark Arcobello and winger Tobias Rieder without the only experienced NHLer on their top line; as such, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the lines shuffled if the league ends up pursuing the case further.
Of course, the Doan hit isn’t the only one from the Arizona – Pittsburgh matchup that the league may be investigating further; earlier in the game, Coyotes defenseman Andrew Campbell was taken off the ice by a boarding call against Pittsburgh winger Blake Comeau, who received a game misconduct for the hit.
*update: the league does not provide a clear, explicit measure of what quantifies a ‘late hit’, although the league’s most commonly reported figures in precedent cases are .5 seconds after the play has cleared and .6 seconds after the play has cleared.*