The Dallas Stars continued to roll on Wednesday night with a 3-2 home victory against the Arizona Coyotes, improving their record to 35-19-6 for 76 points and tying them with the St. Louis Blues for first place in the NHL’s competitive Central Division.

It was a hard-fought game between two teams battling for playoff positioning; two teams who both would strongly benefit from an extra two points in the standings. With a win, the Dallas Stars would tie the Blues for first in the Central Division, while the Arizona Coyotes would temporarily shoot up to second place in a Pacific Division that sees three points separate the top five teams.

Due to the importance of this game, emotions ran high. The Stars and Coyotes benefited from their special teams, with each of them scoring at least one goal on the power play, and played hard-checking, fast-paced hockey. But when the final buzzer sounded to signal a 3-2 Stars victory at American Airlines Center in Dallas, the Stars fans in attendance were left with a feeling of uncertainty about the status of their team’s captain, Jamie Benn.

It was a collision between team captains midway through the second period that highlighted the game. At the 10:27 mark of the period, Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson was attempting to make a play along the boards when Stars captain Jamie Benn delivered a thunderous hit to Ekman-Larsson from behind, sending the Coyotes captain head first into the boards and laying on the ice for a lengthy amount of time. Benn was assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding along with a ten-minute misconduct, and was ejected from the game. After a minor delay, Ekman-Larsson was helped off the ice by teammate Vinnie Hinostroza and the Coyotes’ trainer, and ultimately returned to the game for the start of the third period.

Screenshot of the hit to Ekman-Larsson from Benn / Sportsnet.ca

The hit, which can be viewed here, is bound to draw the attention of George Parros and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and Benn likely faces a hearing followed by a suspension. There has been much chatter from players and fans alike about the inconsistencies in what the Department deems suspension-worthy and what it doesn’t. For instance, the Department was recently criticized by San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane after he was suspended three games for elbowing Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk during their game on February 14. After learning of his suspension, Kane took to Twitter to voice his concerns, calling the system “flawed” and in a separate tweet, pointed out two recent incidents involving Zdeno Chara/Brendan Gallagher and Lawson Crouse/Charlie McAvoy that were not deemed suspension-worthy by the league.

Another recent suspension that was criticized was the Zack Kassian/Eric Cernak incident on February 13. After being tangled up along the boards during play, Kassian delivered a kick to the chest of Cernak with his skate. Cernak was not injured and immediately got up to his feet and involved in the play, and Kassian was not assessed a penalty. After the game, Cernak went on to say he felt “lucky that the kick was to his chest and not any higher” and that there was no place for kicking in hockey, while Kassian defended himself, stating that Cernak was holding on to his leg and he was trying to kick his leg free. Kassian was offered an in-person hearing for the incident, which raised the possibility of a lengthy suspension, but he declined it. He was ultimately banned for seven games by the league.

Full statement from Evander Kane via his verified Twitter account

So if Kane was suspended three games for an elbow and Kassian was suspended seven games for a kick, how long should Benn be suspended? Well, for starters, both Kane and Kassian are repeat offenders, so their suspensions do make sense given their history. Benn has never been suspended, and the Department of Player Safety will surely take that into consideration, seeing as Benn is not a repeat offender.

The other thing the Department will take into consideration is the nature of the hit. Yes, it was a dirty hit. Benn may try to plead his case by saying Ekman-Larsson turned his back at the last second, but if that’s the case, he should have adjusted to that. It is always a dangerous play to hit someone from behind into the boards no matter the situation. Ekman-Larsson seemed dazed and woozy immediately after the hit, but later returned to the game, playing ten shifts in the third period.

But the inconsistencies of the Department continue to show. In a recent game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara blindsided Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher with a cross-check right to the face during a shoving match after a face off. Gallagher did not leave the game. He was assessed two minutes for roughing, while Chara was given two for cross-checking. The next day, Chara was fined $5,000 by the Department, the maximum allowed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. He was not suspended, much to the dissatisfaction of many players and fans.

George Parros, Head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety / David Bloom, Cape Breton Post

On December 15, Philadelphia Flyers rookie Joel Farabee was suspended three games for interference on Winnipeg Jets forward Matthieu Perreault. This was a play that was definitely an interference penalty, but nothing more, as many argued it was definitely not suspension-worthy and were baffled when Parros and Co. handed down a three game suspension.

At the end of the day, Benn will surely be scheduled for a hearing by the Department of Player Safety. He has to be. If the league truly cares about the safety of its players, it needs to happen. Whether Benn meant to deliver the hit or not, Ekman-Larsson was fortunate to be able to come back into the game and play the third period. Checking from behind is a dangerous play in hockey that can seriously injure the player on the receiving end of it, and the person delivering the hit should receive some sort of punishment as a wake-up call. But since Benn is not a repeat offender, do not expect him to get more than three games. With the inconsistencies surrounding the Department and its regard for player safety, it would be a shock to see Benn get anything more than three games.

And if Benn does not happen to get suspended? Oh boy. Be prepared for all hell to break loose.

Featured photo courtesy of Glenn James / Sbnation

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