Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves has been suspended for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
Reaves was ejected from Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks for an illegal check to the head of center Tyler Motte.
The hit came with 3:30 remaining in the second period. Motte, protecting the puck as he was being pursued by Paul Stastny, was leveled by Reaves coming in from the opposite direction.
Referees Chris Rooney and Dan O’Rourke called a match penalty on the play, confirming the call on the ice via video review before sending Reaves to the showers.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed down their ruling the following day, issuing a one-game suspension.
From Player Safety:
“Reaves closes the gap quickly and delivers a forceful shoulder directly to Motte’s head, making the head the main point of contact on a hit where such contact was avoidable.”
“Both the elements of the Illegal Check to the Head rule are met on this hit. First, the head is clearly the main point of contact on this hit, with Motte’s jaw absorbing the brunt of the impact
“Second, the head contact on this hit is avoidable. While we accept Reaves’s argument that he does not intend to hit Motte in the head, Motte does not materially change the position of his head or body in a way that significantly contributes to the head contact on this play.”
Here’s the specifics of the 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.
Reaves expected pressure from Stastny would to force Motte closer to the boards. When that didn’t happen, Reaves failed to change course.
“If Reaves wishes to deliver a check on this play,” advises Player Safety, “he must do so by hitting through Motte’s shoulder and core rather than picking the head with force.”
Vegas head coach Pete Deboer, who called Reaves a “clean, tough player,” admitted that his winger caught Motte in a tough spot with the hit.
“Very rarely does he take penalties; he very rarely takes liberties,” DeBoer said. “He doesn’t take advantage of people in vulnerable positions, even though he could, and yet he plays as physical a brand of hockey as anybody in the league. I think he’s going for a hit there like he does every shift he’s on the ice and angle, movement of the other guy, he’s committed to it, doesn’t have time — whatever the reason. He catches him in the wrong spot.”
Reaves has one prior suspension as well as a fine from 2015-16, when he was with the St. Louis Blues.
No salary is forfeited as a result of the suspension, as players do not collect a salary in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is the third suspension handed out in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago’s Drake Caggiula missed one game for an Illegal Check to the Head against the Oilers, while Philadelphia’s Matt Niskanen sat for one game for a crosscheck to the face of Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher.