Oilers Robbed if NHL Evens Out Nurse & Pietrangelo Suspensions

When you use the word “trade” in hockey, typically, you’re talking about a deal where a player or players move from one team to another. In the case of the trade that might go down between the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers in Game 5 of their second-round series, the conversation turns to the trade of one player for another as each misses some action due to supplementary disciple from the NHL.

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Specifically, the Oilers might lose defenseman Darnell Nurse for one game after being called for an instigator penalty in the last five minutes of Game 4 and the Golden Knights could see Alex Pietrangelo sitting a game or more after a nasty slash to Leon Draisaitl that cost him a five-minute major and a game misconduct.

The league will automatically review the Nurse play, while the Oilers will definitely send in tape on Pietrangelo. If both are suspended, it’s a major blow to each respective team’s blue line.

Related: 5 Times the Oilers Rallied From a 2-1 Deficit to Win a Playoff Series

Reactions on social media suggest the trade-off is a good one for Edmonton if that’s how things go down, simply because Pietrangelo is so vital to the Golden Knights’ success, but the Oilers shouldn’t be at all satisfied if the NHL and the Department of Player Safety take the easy way out a give each player a game to “make things fair”.

The Pietrangelo Slash Was Clear Intent to Injure

Pietrangelo was targeted all game long by the Oilers. One of their best players, it was evident Edmonton’s plan was to wear him down and frustrate him. It worked and a player who typically has more control because the veteran understands the game simply saw his frustration boil over. What Pietrangelo did in two-handing Draisaitl well after the puck was gone, away from the play, and from way above his head wasn’t a hockey play. That was a clear attempt to hurt someone.

Alex Pietrangelo Vegas Golden Knights
Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Elliotte Friedman noted after the game that Pietrangelo has put himself in real trouble here. While the NHL insider wouldn’t go so far as to say his slash should be an automatic suspension, the play was egregiously obvious and out of character for Pietrangelo whose anger bubbled over. Pietrangelo was mad that he was hurt on a whack and run into the boards by Evander Kane just a couple of minutes earlier. If the league looks at this play (which they will), it would be incredibly hard to miss the fact that the Golden Knights’ blueliner was out for blood.

When asked about the play after the game, Connor McDavid noted:

“You’d like to see it reviewed for sure. I would like to see [Pietrangelo] suspended. It’s as intent to injure as you can get. Time, score, clock all play a factor. He comes over his head and places it just kind of under Leon’s chin. You’d like to see something like that suspended, it’s not a hockey play. But, at the end of the day, it’s not in our hands.”

In the regular season, this is the kind of play that can get a player three games or more. In the playoffs, — and with the inconsistencies of calls by the NHL DoPS — there’s no guarantee this will be even more than a fine.

Nurse Might Be Suspended on an Instigator Technicality

By the letter of the law, Nurse could be sitting Game 5. The way the rule is written, getting an instigator in the final five minutes is a one-game suspension. The automatic suspension can be overturned upon review, but it needs to be deemed that the instigator penalty was in no way connected to the previous plays that may have led to the fight. As written: “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”.

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There is no doubt that Nurse skated a great distance to get into the scrum and that will certainly work against him here. But, Oilers’ head coach Jay Woodcroft was asked about the play and said he saw two willing combatants and believed that Nurse bearhugged Nic Hague before Hauge dropped his gloves and threw eight punches. It was then Nurse engaged in the fight. The question the league will have to answer is, was Nurse trying to encourage a fight for what happened earlier? If so, he’ll be sitting.

There Is No Way The NHL Should “Even This Up”

Regardless of how the NHL views the play by Nurse and the instigator penalty that could force him out of the lineup, there is no way the NHL should look at these two plays and call it a fair swap. Friedman hinted that the NHL could do that and take the easy road to ensure that neither team is at a disadvantage, but if that’s what goes down here, the Oilers should be furious. They will have been absolutely robbed by a league that is too busy trying not to ruffle feathers instead of getting it right.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

These two plays may all be connected to the same series of events and the frustration may have built from one play to the next, but what Pietrangelo did was so far beyond an acceptable retaliatory decision, the DoPS has to send a message. Draisaitl may not have been injured, but these types of plays can absolutely take a player out of commission. An inch higher or lower and Draisaitl could have missed the remainder of the playoffs.

And, when you’re talking about who the penalty was on, it was against one of the league’s biggest stars and arguably the best player in the playoffs this season. Pietrangelo didn’t care that Draisaitl wasn’t the guy who sent him into the boards, he was going after one of the team’s biggest assets. This was on purpose, it was heinous in nature, and the NHL has to react, regardless of how important Pietrangelo is to his team.

These plays should not be connected, even though there’s a chance they will be. And, if they are linked, the NHL should ensure that under no circumstances is Pietrangelo sitting out the same or less time than Nurse.