Washington Capitals center Dale Hunter was found guilty by the NHL yesterday of "unwarranted, unsportsmanlike and excessive conduct" and will be suspended for slamming New York Islanders center Pierre Turgeon into the boards and causing him to suffer a concussion and a separated shoulder in Game 6 Wednesday.
The incident came while Turgeon was celebrating scoring the Islanders' final goal with 8:31 left in a 5-3 victory that eliminated the Capitals from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Hunter will be suspended without pay for an unspecified number of games next season. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who headed a committee that made yesterday's ruling, will determine the exact penalty next week.
Bettman said the reason for the delay is to give the league an opportunity to review Turgeon's medical records and give Washington an opportunity to express its view on the duration of the suspension.
"[But] we want to send a clear message that the National Hockey League will not tolerate such actions," Bettman said in a statement.
Capitals general manager David Poile attended a disciplinary hearing in New York with Hunter yesterday and said he had no qualms with the procedure.
Poile would not expand on his feelings, saying the matter is still being reviewed.
Bernadette Mansur, vice president of NHL corporate communications, said the only thing in doubt is the length of the suspension.
"Regardless of the extent of Pierre Turgeon's injuries, Dale Hunter has been found guilty and will be suspended," she said.
There was no answer at Hunter's home last night, but he said Wednesday night he did not feel he had made a dirty play.
"I didn't see the puck go in the net," Hunter said. "I didn't know he scored, and I was just trying to finish my check. It was a clean check, but he put his arms up just before I hit him, and that was unfortunate. I'm sorry he got hurt. I'd take it back if I could."
Islanders general manager Don Maloney immediately called for a one-year suspension of Hunter, but backed off a little yesterday.
"We think [Bettman] understands the gravity of the situation," Maloney said in a telephone news conference. "One year's suspension may be justified, or it may not. I'll leave it up to Gary to decide what action has to be taken. It's still premature to judge the situation."
Turgeon, the Islanders' leading scorer, had 58 goals in the regular season and four more in the first-round victory over the Capitals. He is expected to be out for at least two weeks.
Washington coach Terry Murray, who did not appear for interviews after his team's loss, said he did not see Hunter's play on Turgeon.
"I saw the goal, and then I turned away," he said. "When I looked back, it was over."
Murray said coaches and players in the team benches cannot see the overhead replays, and he has not looked at game film.
"But the one thing I will say about Dale Hunter is that he is a very high quality player who is a fierce competitor," Murray said. "When you're talking about Dale, you are not talking about your 16th forward who is in and out of the lineup to be an enforcer. He was just honored for playing 1,000 games in the NHL and he is well-respected around the league."