Cross-checks don’t get much more brutal – or blatant – than the one Dustin Byfuglien delivered to New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller on Tuesday night. The Winnipeg Jets defenseman cross-checked the winger, who was down on the ice, with a downward thrust to his exposed neck.
Somehow, Miller avoided serious injury on the play. That does not mean Byfuglien should avoid serious discipline as a result.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has reviewed the play. Byfuglien has been scheduled for a phone hearing on Thursday, which means he could be suspended for up to five games – precisely the number of matches left in the Jets’ season.
No penalty was called on the play by referees Wes McCauley and Dan O’Rourke. O’Rourke was positioned on the far side, with his view of the play partially obstructed by Byfuglien’s back. You can see him focused on the puck, raising his whistle momentarily as if he’d nearly lost sight of it.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault called it “one of most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year. [It was] violent, deliberate, could have broken his neck.”
The NHL needs to come down hard on Byfuglien. It’s these types of plays – unrelated to the game of hockey – that are the most dangerous and, by far, the ugliest. Some suspensions are the result of poor timing or a hit delivered at an unfortunate angle. Others are the result of gross misconduct. This falls into the latter category. There’s unquestionably intent to injure and there’s absolutely no justification for Byfuglien’s stickwork.
Though he’s never been suspended, Byfuglien has been fined before.
Byfuglien’s boneheaded attack on diminutive Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello – taken with less than a minute to play in a one-goal game – may have cost the Jets a chance at earning a point Tuesday night. His attack on Miller may cost his team a shot at the playoffs.
We’ll find out just how much on Thursday morning, following the verdict from the Department of Player Safety.