Mike Matheson may have a future in the Octagon, but the Department of Player Safety said Monday there is no room for body slamming in today’s NHL.
The Florida Panthers’ defenceman was suspended for two games by the NHL for slamming promising Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson to the ice on Saturday night.
Pettersson, 19, sustained a concussion on the play. There is no timetable for his return to the lineup, Canucks coach Travis Green said Monday. Pettersson opened his NHL career with five goals and three assists - including at least one point in each appearance - in his first five NHL games.
“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad,” Green told reporters on Monday. “I’m really upset, I still am. We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary.”
The Department of Player Safety concurred, citing Matheson for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct violations. This is Matheson’s first career suspension; as such the 24-year-old blueliner will forfeit $52,419.36 in salary. There was no penalty called on the play.
The sequence began with Pettersson undressing Matheson with deft puck maneuvering and ended with Pettersson being driven into the ice after an otherwise clean check along the boards.
“Well after the puck has gone, and after his hitting motion has stopped, Matheson intentionally slammed Pettersson directly to the ice intentionally and dangerously,” the NHL’s explanation video said.
The NHL also acknowledged that Matheson’s stick was wedged between Pettersson’s legs, which made it easier to leverage Pettersson backward in a can-opener style wrestling move.
“This is not a hockey play,” the NHL’s video explained.
With his visor all fogged up, a wobbly Pettersson needed help getting back on his skates and was quickly guided to Vancouver’s locker room. The NHL did not specifically discuss intent in the video, but clearly hinted toward it with how he tracked Pettersson after an embarrassing play.
That is what bothered the Canucks.
“[Pettersson] made him look silly and he took his frustrations out on him,” Canucks centre Bo Horvat told reporters. “The initial hit, it was fine. But the fact he had to body slam him, basically choke-slam him to the ground, there’s no need for that.”
The NHL’s ruling was polarizing nonetheless, with old-time hockey minds cut from a more traditional cloth saying that Matheson was simply finishing a hard check.
“It was unfortunate he couldn’t come back and play,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “Matheson is a pretty clean hockey player and I don’t think there was any intent there. He was just finishing his check and they got tangled up and he went down.”
Others said that Matheson cannot be blamed for the way Pettersson hit the ice because at 170 pounds, he would became airborne easier than a typical NHLer with the same force. Would the same result have occurred with the same hit on Horvat?
Either way, Matheson’s suspension serves as vindication for Vancouver.
But that won’t bring Pettersson, not just the early Calder Trophy leader but also one of the most exciting players league-wide this young season, back to the lineup any quicker.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli