NHL suspends Detroit Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin for throwing punch in retaliation

Detroit Free Press

The NHL Department of Player Safety slapped Dylan Larkin with a one-game suspension for an incident the Detroit Red Wings argue needn’t have happened.

The Wings host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. This is the first time in his 433-game career Larkin has been suspended.

It has been a turbulent start to the season for Larkin: His night in Thursday’s season opener began with a captains ceremony that included Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg — and ended in injury and an ejection. The league punished Larkin for punching Tampa Bay Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph in the head, which the Wings note Larkin did because the last time somebody pushed him in the back of the neck, the offender went unscathed and Larkin went to the hospital.

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Joseph fell to the ice after getting punched and went to the dressing room. He returned to finish the second period but did not play in the third period. Larkin was assessed a match penalty, triggering a review by the NHL’s disciplinary board. 

Joseph ran Larkin from behind, hitting him in the neck/shoulders area and injuring him to the point Larkin was unable to practice Friday. He was to see medical personnel later in the day.

“Didn’t like the hit at all,” teammate Robby Fabbri said. “Saw his numbers the whole way. After what Larks has been through the last three months with his injury, it wasn’t nice to see. I’m not surprised at the way he reacted.”

The NHL explained the decision: “Larkin and Joseph race towards a loose puck. Larkin cuts in front of Joseph to establish position. Joseph shoves Larkin, causing him to hit the boards and fall to the ice. Larkin then gets to his feet, finds Joseph, and swings wildly, punching the unsuspecting Joseph in the face with a gloved hand with sufficient force to knock him to the ice. This is roughing.

“This is not a case of two players who willingly engage in a mutual confrontation.  Joseph has no warning that he is about to be punched, and Larkin gives him no time to brace for contact, defend himself, or choose to engage in the altercation. We understand that Larkin is frustrated on this play, but as our department has established in the past, players are not excused from punishment merely because they are acting in response to the actions of another player. What causes this play to rise to the level of supplemental discipline is the retaliatory nature of the punch, and the force with which it is delivered to an unsuspecting opponent.”

Larkin’s last season was cut short April 20 when Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn shoved his stick into Larkin’s neck. Thursday was Larkin’s first game in six months, and when he was hit from behind, there was no penalty on the offender.

“I feel for him big time,” Blashill said. “I waffle between feeling for him and being pissed off that he has to go through that. Injuries are part of the game and you have to deal with them. Ultimately the first one (in April) was on a non-hockey-related play, when he got hurt last year at the end of the year. He spent eight weeks in a cervical hard collar. Couldn’t do anything, couldn’t train. Spent that night in a hospital. It takes a toll on you emotionally.

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“He was excited to get the season going. We’re all excited for a new year. He was playing really good hockey and it was a fun game to be a part of.”

Larkin was not available to media Friday. Blashill discussed the incident with Larkin and said, “He told me this — he doesn’t want to take that penalty. We have to be more disciplined than that, 100%. But I also understand where he’s coming from.

“As a hockey observer in general, whether I’m watching my 11-year-old play hockey or watching us play hockey, I personally think the most dangerous play in hockey is anything where you’re pushing somebody head first into the boards,” Blashill said. “I get there’s times when people turn, but (Thursday night) clearly wasn’t the case. You can say, well, he put himself in a vulnerable position — I don’t know, he’s going to get the puck. I think none of us want to be in a position where it’s OK to have high hits on the back, on numbers. That’s my personal opinion.”

While they await further word on Larkin’s status, teammates vowed to carry on.

“He’s the heart of the team,” Fabbri said. “He always brings that extra energy in games. He’s someone everyone leans on. In the lineup or not in the lineup, he’s going to be there to lead us. We’ll try to hold down the fort until he gets back.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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