Washington Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway has been suspended three games for spitting on Anaheim’s Erik Gudbranson.

The suspension-worthy expectoration came after a scrum along the boards that saw two players ejected and 55 minutes in penalties handed out.

It’s good to see the league send a clear message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

It’s a bit frustrating though, when you look at the suspension length relative to player safety issues.  There were nine illegal check to the head suspensions last season that only resulted in 1-2 game bans. Only three suspensions all season were longer than the three-gamer Hathaway picked up:  20 games to Washington’s Tom Wilson for an illegal check to the head, 5 games to Montreal’s Max Domi for roughing, and 5 games to Toronto’s Nazem Kadri for cross-checking.

There’s no way spitting should ever be part of hockey.  It’s never a hockey play gone bad.

Illegal checks to the head may come from what might otherwise be a legal check. A last minute move or shift in position by the player delivering the check can quickly turn it from legal to a suspendable offense.

The challenge comes for a league that had admitted concerns of player safety —  specifically working to eliminate checks to the head — to more harshly penalize spitting than illegal checks to the head.

Yes, spitting is disgusting.  Yes, it’s suspension-worthy.  No one’s career, though, has ever ended from being spit on.

As we covered after the game, Washington’s Brendan Leipsic steamrolled Ducks center Derek Grant late in the second period, with the Caps leading 2-0.  A scrum broke out along the boards, with three Anaheim players going after Leipsic. Washington took advantage of the distracted defenders to score and take a 3-0 lead.  The goal, though, was nearly an afterthought as punches were being thrown. Hathaway and Grant squared off, both players wrestling each other to the ice.



When it appeared that peace had been restored, a quick exchange between Hathaway and Gudbranson reignited the fire.  While the two players were being restrained by referee Peter MacDougall — lending a hand to his linesmen, already engaged with players — Hathaway reached over and unhooked the chin strap of Gudbranson’s helmet. The Anaheim blueliner responded with a punch. Hathaway, in turn, spit back.

The Capitals forward was tossed, picking up a match penalty

“The refs were trying to break it up,” said Hathaway. “It felt like there was a couple sucker punches thrown and I got there one quick and then reacted a little emotionally and unfortunately spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went on to him.”

“It has no place,” Hathaway added. “It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

Hathaway will forfeit $24,193.53 in salary as a result of the suspension.