The incident took place in the second period, with Miller prone after trying to jam the loose puck into the net. Byfuglien delivers a cross-check to the back of the neck and somehow the Rangers forward escapes without injury.
No matter what angle you look at it, this is bad. There will always be excuses from the peanut gallery, but there’s no way this type of thing should be happening. You simply don’t crosscheck someone in the neck and/or head.
Byfuglien wasn’t offered an in-person hearing, which meant the suspension was to be kept under five games. But sometimes four games can be too slight, as I believe it is in this case. The Jets have five games left on the schedule and Byfuglien will be eligible to return for their final game, which could have some serious playoff implications. If the Department of Player Safety really wanted to send a message, they’d have banned him for five.
Consider that the league’s own explanation of the incident states that “Byfuglien not only delivers an illegal blow, he does so with excessive force to an unprotected and vulnerable part of Miller’s upper body.” Or that “Miller is defenceless and out of the play by the time Byfuglien initiates contact.”
Sounds pretty bad, right?
Of course, there are other factors to consider in terms of length of suspension. Byfuglien has been fined three times over the course of his career and Miller was not injured. This is likely what led to the decision to make it four games and not five.
As Rangers coach Alain Vigneault rightly stated, what happened was “violent, deliberate. Could have broken his neck. It was one of the most vicious crosschecks I’ve seen this year.”
What if the incident had broken Miller’s neck? Clearly getting crosschecked to the neck isn’t part of the incidental or expected contact an NHL player expects when they lace the skates. There is the expectation of hard contact or of fisticuffs and whatnot, but this type of thing isn’t exactly normal or reasonable – no matter what the more, let’s say, “creative” hockey fans will suggest.