Two Flyers issued apologies during their 3-2 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
Wayne Simmonds, a player known for a tough but honest game, immediately held out his hand after dangerously cross-checking Nikolaj Ehlers into the boards early in the third period. The sincerity of Simmonds’ regret was unquestionable as he lingered to make sure that Ehlers was not concussed or otherwise injured, and he gave himself a long tongue-lashing that began while skating to the penalty box and continued while he sat there.
Ehlers, meanwhile, appeared to accept Simmonds’ mea culpa as he rose to his feet and headed to the bench.
The other apology was issued by Radko Gudas, according to Mathieu Perreault, while in the penalty box awaiting an on-ice subcommittee decision from officials that resulted in his ejection. At the tail end of a tussle behind the net in which Gudas’ helmet was ripped from his head by Perreault, the Flyers defenseman issued a two-handed slash across the neck of the Jets forward as he was on all fours.
After a meeting among on-ice officials that followed a replay of the incident, Gudas’ original matching minor penalty was increased to a five-minute major, and he was ejected. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol was told by one of the two referees that the change was made without reviewing the replay above the ice.
On Friday, the NHL issued a tweet saying that Gudas has been offered an in-person hearing about the incident, which is usually a precursor for a suspension lasting more than five games. Late Friday, the league announced Gudas had waived that offer and would instead have his hearing over the phone on Sunday. He is ineligible to play until that hearing. Andrew MacDonald is close to returning to the lineup after a four-week injury absence, and Mark Alt is also available.
Meanwhile, Gudas won’t be calling Perreault to testify on his behalf.
“He got the meaty part of the neck,’’ said Perreault, who received a high-sticking penalty for popping off Gudas’ helmet. “It could have been worse, I guess. He apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident.’’
Well, Gudas certainly meant to slash him. But in that spot? Only Gudas knows for sure. What is clear, though, is that he has not earned the benefit of the doubt that Simmonds has.
For Gudas, it is quite the opposite. If he receives the likely lengthy suspension – and the NHL tweet makes that seem a certainty – it will be the third time in his career he has been penalized for perceived dirty play. He was suspended three games in 2015 for a head shot to Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad, and was suspended for six games last preseason after a high hit on Boston’s Auston Czarnik. That hit followed a high hit on the Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey a week earlier that did not earn a suspension.
His reputation precedes him – sometimes, as was the case Thursday night, with toxic results. Forced to play a heavy team with five defensemen for the next 50 minutes, the Flyers lost the edge in play they had held to that point. A critical offensive-zone error of aggression by Travis Sanheim that led to Winnipeg’s first goal might not have occurred if the more defensive-minded Gudas, instead of the rookie, was manning the penalty kill.
Which is an important point to make. The Flyers, in their current makeup, need Gudas’ experience as well as the edge with which he plays. They are one of the NHL’s smaller teams, and against the large Western Conference teams that have made up a chunk of their schedule so far, it shows.
Gudas plays heavier – and meaner – than his 6-foot, 204-pound frame implies. Simmonds’ rail-like frame (6-2, 185) belies his grit and physicality.
The Flyers need both in the lineup. With Gudas’ likely suspension, the petitioning from fans to promote 6-7, 230-pound defenseman Samuel Morin will begin anew. On the immediate horizon, the return of Andrew MacDonald will soften the hit when the Flyers host the Calgary Flames at 1 p.m. Saturday, and Mark Alt remains with the team.
The bad news? Despite the presence of South Jersey’s own Johnny Gaudreau (5-9, 157 pounds), the Flames – now with 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr on board — are among the NHL’s larger teams.