Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas will avoid disciplinary action for his hit on Buffalo Sabres rookie Daniel Catenacci.  

The hit took place late in the third period, with the Flyers leading the Sabres 5-1.   Gudas was given a five-minute major for charging by referees Steve Kozari and Chris Lee.  

The NHL opted not to suspend Gudas for the hit.  While it did appear that the Flyers blueliner made contact with Catenacci’s head, the league may have felt that the Sabres winger was partially responsible for the position he was in.  Per Rule 48, which covers Illegal Checks to the Head:

In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward. 

(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

The issue with the play is that Catenacci’s body posture was due to the fact that he was already physically engaged with Philadelphia’s Chris Vandevelde.  The two made contact, with both off balance as they skated through center ice.  Instead of pulling up on the hit – especially with a late 5-1 lead – Gudas stepped into the hit as if set up for the pick. 

While Catenucci was in a vulnerable position, that position did not materially change. Gudas had plenty of time to avoid the hit.

Contact with the head was avoidable simply because the hit – to an unsuspecting player in a vulnerable position – was avoidable. 

“I think there’s no question it’s head hit,” Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma told the Buffalo News

“That guy’s an idiot and stupid,” Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno said, referring to Gudas. “He gets his hits in, he’s dirty and he’s been known for it. He goes after a rookie who plays in three games and goes right at his head.  He’s an idiot, that guy.”

Catenacci left the game and did not return. He’s expected to be out of the lineup for Friday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens. 

Buffalo’s Jake McCabe went after Gudas after the hit. Both picked up fighting majors, with an additional instigator penalty going to McCabe.  

Payers who receive an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of a game are subject to automatic suspension.

46.11 Instigator – An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.

46.12 Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime) – A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime shall be assessed an instigator minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, and a game misconduct penalty, subject to the conditions outlined in 46.22.

46.22 Fines and Suspensions – Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime) – A player who is  deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime (see 46.12), shall be suspended for one game, pending a review of the incident. When the one-game suspension is imposed, the Coach shall be fined $10,000 – a fine that will double for each subsequent incident. 

The suspension shall be served unless, upon review of the incident, the Director of Hockey Operations, at his discretion, deems the incident is not related to the score, previous incidents in the game or prior games, retaliatory in nature, “message sending”, etc. The length of suspension will double for each subsequent offense. This suspension shall be served in addition to any other automatic suspensions a player may incur for an accumulation of three or more instigator penalties.

In this case, the NHL has rescinded the suspension, likely due to the fact that it was in response to the illegal hit by Gudas.  That seems fair.  McCabe shouldn’t have been suspended for the fight.

Gudas, on the other hand, deserved to miss some time.