USATSI_9051505_154158418_lowresEdmonton Oilers forward Matt Hendricks has been suspended for three games for boarding Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad.

The incident took place in the third period of Sunday’s game between the Oilers and Panthers and there was no penalty on the play. Hendricks did have a phone hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Monday and the suspension was dished out accordingly.

As a result of the incident, Ekblad is out with an upper body injury. Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said there was no timetable for his return, even though the 19-year-old from Windsor returned to Sunday’s game after the hit.

Unsurprisingly, Hendricks stated that there was nothing dastardly about the contact.

“I don’t hit dirty,” he said. “I’ve never been known to hit dirty. I thought it was a clean hit. I’m glad he came back and played. I’d feel bad if he was injured from that.”

And unsurprisingly, Hendricks’ hit could be (and has been) described as an extension of the Code of hockey. Most saw it as retribution for Erik Gudbranson’s check on Taylor Hall, with Hendricks only doing his job in taking out Ekblad.

This sort of thing will be part of the hockey conversation for some time and many will use tough talk to defend Hendricks’ actions, even if his actions took out a player who had nothing to do with the contact on Hall. The mentality is and has always been simple: “take out our star, we’ll take out yours.”

The details are, of course, irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the hit on Hall was legal or fair. It doesn’t matter if Hall’s a man who can take care of himself. And it doesn’t matter that Hall was crossing centre ice with his head down. Retribution was needed and all that.

In 42 games this season, Ekblad has 19 points. He’s a plus-17 and is quickly emerging as one of the best players on the Panthers. In 123 career games, he has 58 points.

The 34-year-old Hendricks has seven points in 33 games this season and has 88 points in 444 career games with the Oilers, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, and Colorado Avalanche. After his first full season in Colorado, the team nominated him for the Bill Masterton Trophy. This is his first suspension.

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