Will Joffrey Lupul face suspension for his hit on Victor Hedman?

Joffrey Lupul has had a pretty eventful first couple of games back from the injury. He’s found the scoresheet multiple times: three goals, and four penalties. The first three penalties were questionable calls—two of them happened to take the Leafs off the powerplay—but the third was pretty cut and dry. The question we all want to know: does the hit merit suspension

At the start of the third period in the Maple Leafs win against the Lightning, Lupul skates by big Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman and clocks him to the head. The call was two for “illegal check to the head”.

It’s worth noting that Hedman missed a little over six minutes of action and came back to play seven shifts in the third period, so he wasn’t injured on the play. Or maybe he was, because he looked pretty groggy coming up. I’m no specialist, but it’s not like hockey teams have the greatest reputations in the “take players who may have head injuries off the ice” department.

Lupul has never been suspended or fined in his eight-and-change-year-long NHL career spanning 520 games, which works for in his favour.

For a refresher, here is Rule 48:

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.

It’s an interesting rule because there’s no provision for a major penalty or a game misconduct. There’s that of the minor variety, or a match penalty if in the referees judgment, “the player attempted to or deliberately [injure] his opponent”. Don’t think that’s the case here.

Will it result in suspension? There’s very little precedent for suspension for an illegal check to the head since the rule is relatively new and the NHL overhauled its discipline structure prior to the 2011-12 season and again in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. The biggest difference is that the NHL can fine players more than $2,500, which probably helps a guy like Lupul if he doesn’t want to miss games because there’s something between missing two shifts salary and a game.

Mike Green got three games for this hit on Brett Connolly, but that was with an elbow and he’s a repeat offender. This Dane Byers hit on Andrew Desjardins also netted three games, but was a lot more vicious than Lupul’s and Byers is also a repeat offender. Upon looking over some of these suspensions, it’s pretty obvious that the NHL penalizes only the real brutal cases. The Brendan Shanahan “Evolution of a Suspension” video explains that the NHL determines the degree of an infraction and reviews hundreds of cases a year whereas only a few will get a hearing. 

Lupul got two minutes on the play, and considering there were 29 (if I’m googling right) “illegal check to the head” calls last season but only 12 suspensions for the same. They were also all of the three-game variety, and simply Lupul’s hit, while illegal and worthy of a penalty, isn’t enough to merit supplemental discipline. He might get a fine, but I’d be surprised, especially considering Hedman stayed in the game.

For a player without any history, you’d have to end up doing something like this.

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