New York Rangers star Rick Nash is one of the NHL's elite power forwards and plays a solid two-way game, but he crossed the line between playing hard and playing dirty Thursday night when he hit Florida Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky with an elbow to the back of the head.
UPDATE: Friday, March 22 at 3:35 p.m. ET by Nicholas Goss
In a surprising decision by the NHL, Nash will not be suspended, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
---End of Update---
Shockingly, Nash was not called for a penalty, and after initially skating to the bench after the hit, Kopecky was able to return to action and scored an empty-net goal later in the third period to help the Panthers defeat the Rangers 3-1.
Here is a video of the incident:
This was a reckless and dangerous hit that should result in—at the very least—a two-game suspension for Nash.
There are three major reasons why this hit should result in a multi-game suspension for the Rangers forward:
- The head was targeted
- The hit was from behind
- Nash left his feet
Another thing that league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety often look at is if the offending player had time to pull up and make a clean body check or just evade all contact.
In this incident, Nash appeared to skate several feet toward Kopecky and did not let up as he readied himself for contact.
He made no effort to avoid contact with Kopecky's head, and the Panthers forward did not do anything that contributed to him being in any vulnerable situation.
Nash does not have a prior history of supplemental discipline and has never been suspended since joining the NHL in the 2002-03 season, but there's a strong chance that he could be sitting in the press box for a few games after this hit.
It was reckless contact with the head that was made and Nash left his feet. The Rangers forward made a foolish decision, and it could really cost his team.
New York is in the middle of an intense playoff race and Thursday's loss to Florida dropped the Blueshirts to 15-13-2 on the year—good for ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
Nash leads the Rangers in scoring with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 26 games, so his potential absence from the lineup could be a major problem for head coach John Tortorella and the Blueshirts offense, which ranks 29th in goals scored.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul was suspended two games (via TSN's Bob McKenzie) for an illegal hit to the head on Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman during Wednesday's game at the Air Canada Centre, and he had not been suspended at the NHL level prior to that play.
Nash and Lupul's incidents are different, but both of them included hits where the head was targeted and one or both skates left the ice prior to contact.
The NHL should suspend Nash for three games. He's not a dirty player, but this was a dangerous hit that could have resulted in a serious injury for Kopecky.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.