The hits just keep on coming.   So do the suspensions.

Player Safety has been busy through the first 20 games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  With suspensions already issued to Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov and Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, the league has levied its latest ban on San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton.

Thornton has been suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of Vegas Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek.  Thornton was given a two-minute minor penalty for an illegal check to the head by referees Jon McIsaac and Marc Joannette.  The hit took place with 3:06 to play in the second period of an eventual 6-3 Vegas victory.


“I honestly thought I barely touched him,” Thornton said after Sunday’s game in Las Vegas. “He came right back. It was just one of those plays. It is what it is. I think my son hits me like that six times a day. It was just a weird position [Nosek] put himself in, that’s all.”

Nosek’s teammate, Ryan Reaves, responded to Thornton’s comments.

“I’ve got a buddy with a grandpa who’s going through the same thing. He can’t see very well because he’s getting old. Needs glasses. If he gets suspended he’s going to have a hard time seeing from the press box.”

“It’s gutless. It’s behind the play, it’s to the head,” added Reaves. “It’s everything we’re trying to get out of hockey.”

Referees have only two options when it comes to penalizing illegal checks to the head. From Rule 48.1:

Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.

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.

    • 48.2 Minor Penalty – For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.
    • 48.3 Major Penalty – There is no provision for a major penalty for this rule.
    • 48.4 Game Misconduct Penalty – There is no provision for a game misconduct for this rule.
    • 48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.

In this case, the on-ice officials felt that Thornton did not intend to injure his opponent. The Department of Player Safety, upon further review, felt otherwise.

This is the second career suspension for Joe Thornton. He sat for two games in 2010 for a hit to the head to David Perron, then with the St. Louis Blues.

Thornton was also fined $2,500 for high-sticking Golden Knights’ forward Ryan Reaves in March.