Hunter hit with 21-game check NHL suspends Capitals center for nailing Turgeon

May 05, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

The NHL has suspended Washington Capitals center Dale Hunter without pay for the first 21 games of the 1993-94 season for blindsiding New York Islanders center Pierre Turgeon during the final game of their first-round playoff series.

It is the longest suspension for an on-ice infraction in league history.

"No punishment can undo Hunter's actions or erase the competitive loss by the Islanders," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who made his first disciplinary ruling since taking the job this season. "This was a situation that needed to be seriously punished, and it needed to be severe enough to deter such conduct in the future."

Bettman said he believes the penalty will be judged too tough by some and not tough enough by others.

"But I did what I thought I had to do," he said during an afternoon news conference. "Under my watch, this is the way we're going to handle these kinds of incidents. If this isn't a deterrent to this kind of play, we'll find something that is. But I think this is quite a severe penalty."

Besides missing the 21 games, Hunter will not be allowed to participate in any preseason games. He won't be allowed to practice with the Capitals until two weeks before the suspension is to end.

Hunter will lose about $150,000 in salary, which the Capitals will pay to the league as a fine. The money will be donated to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

"I am disappointed in the length of this suspension, and deep down, I do not believe it was warranted," Hunter said in a prepared statement. "I have spoken to Commissioner Bettman, and he has outlined and explained this decision. While I am unhappy with it, I will accept his judgment.

"I regret the incident and I have apologized to Pierre Turgeon for the hit and the injury, and I hope he returns to the Islanders lineup shortly. I look forward to rejoining the Washington Capitals in the 1993-94 season."

Turgeon responded to the ruling during a news conference before the Islanders' game in Pittsburgh last night.

"It's the biggest suspension in the history of the league," Turgeon said. "But I'm not on the ice, and I'd love to be out there."

The incident occurred in Game 6, seconds after Turgeon had scored a goal to put the Islanders up 5-1 in the 5-3 New York victory that eliminated Washington from the playoffs.

Hunter followed Turgeon after he had scored. While Turgeon had his arms raised in celebration, Hunter checked him into the boards. Turgeon suffered a separated right shoulder that has sidelined him for the Islanders' Patrick Division finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After the game, Hunter said that he did not know Turgeon had scored and that he was following the Islander to finish his check. When Turgeon was asked yesterday if he believed Hunter, he said: "I don't believe that. You can see on the replay it was four or five seconds later. We don't need that kind of stuff in hockey. We can't have that kind of stuff. We can't have that stuff on TV. We just want to play hockey."

As severe as the penalty is on Hunter, it also will be costly to the Capitals. Besides sending the league $150,000, general manager David Poile said the team will be forced either to call up a developing player to take Hunter's spot during his suspension or acquire a veteran player.

Bettman pointed out that, under next season's new playoff procedure, in which teams will be grouped by conference rather than just by division, the loss of Hunter for a quarter of the regular season "could possibly cost the Capitals a playoff spot."

Hunter had 20 goals and 59 assists this season, tying for third in Capitals scoring at 79 points.

Asked to react to Bettman's decision, Poile let out a low-volume scream and said, "It's very harsh.

"We've had the opportunity to go through the history of the NHL, and this is the most severe penalty ever handed out," Poile said. "I don't think our thoughts and recommendations had much bearing on Commissioner Bettman's decision, and this is a tough pill to swallow."

Capitals coach Terry Murray said the penalty "ends up being a lot more than 21 games."

Pointing to the missed preseason games and practices, Murray said there is no way Hunter can be "physically ready to play at the level he does and contribute the way he consistently does" when he returns with two weeks of practice before his suspension is up.

"It's an almost impossible situation for Dale Hunter," Murray said.

Capitals management described the penalty as harsh, but several Islanders said it was inadequate.

"We've lost our best player in the playoffs, the most important part of the season, and what Washington loses is not as significant," said Islanders captain Pat Flatley.

When asked if the penalty was strong enough, Islanders general manager Don Maloney said: "If being boiled in oil is the high range and 21 games is the low range, he's within the range."

"He got off light," said Islander Steve Thomas. "He deserves every game of it. It was a poor display of sportsmanship. . . . He should have gotten 50 games."

TOUGHEST PENALTIES

The longest suspensions for violent acts in the NHL:

21 games

Dale Hunter, Washington, 1993, for a blindside check of Pierre Turgeon of the New York Islanders after a goal in a playoff game.

20 games

Tom Lysiak, Chicago, 1983, for intentionally tripping a linesman.

16 games

Eddie Shore, Boston, 1933, for hitting Toronto's Ace Bailey over the head with his stick. He missed one-third of the 48-game regular season.

15 games

Maurice Richard, Montreal, 1955, for leveling linesman Cliff Thompson during a scuffle with Boston's Hal Laycoe.

Wilf Paiement, Colorado, 1978, for swinging his stick and hitting Detroit's Dennis Polonich in the face.

Dave Brown, Philadelphia, 1987, for cross-checking Tomas Sandstrom of the New York Rangers across the face.

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