David Perron’s Attempted Elbow Is a Test the NHL Department of Player Safety Can’t Afford to Fail

David Perron (57) takes down Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri.
St Louis Blues forward David Perron takes down Nazem Kadri.| Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

In an old episode of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob famously quipped, “‘Attempted murder,’ now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel Prize for ‘attempted chemistry?'” While that may seem like a dark way to begin a hockey article, keep the idea of “attempting” to do something in mind.

On Wednesday, April 24, Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri scored his second goal in a win over the St. Louis Blues. For context, Kadri has become public enemy number one after (probably) inadvertently taking out St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington. He’s even been on the receiving end of death threats, which isn’t OK by any stretch of the imagination.

Circling back to Monday night, though, things didn’t end after the puck found the back of the net. While Kadri was celebrating, Blues forward David Perron appeared to throw a flying elbow at the face of his opponent. It didn’t connect, but that shouldn’t give the NHL Department of Player Safety (DOPS) an excuse to look away. Attempted elbow or not, it was still a dirty play that has no place in hockey.

Purely from an action-based perspective, it’s easy to see what Perron did and why it’s dangerous. Forget the fact that the hit would have landed after the whistle. Even if the play was still alive, Kadri just released the puck, making him the classic example of a defenseless player and has no reason to expect a blind-side elbow. Perron probably would have made contact above the shoulders, too, which is a second strike from an infraction-based perspective.

To make things worse, it’s easy to read some revenge into the situation. Perron had just emerged from the penalty box, where he served two minutes for cross-checking Kadri (he could have been hit with a variety of different infractions) and took a run at the same opponent. If you consider the larger context of Kadri’s role in the series, the intent seems clear. While no one other than the Blues’ winger knows what he was truly trying to do, repeatedly targeting an opponent who injured your goalie certainly resembles revenge.

In combination, that’s more than enough for the DOPS to act. Even if he didn’t connect, he threw a dangerous elbow that could have caused a serious head injury. If you consider that it was a potential act of revenge and that Kadri is already receiving threats, it’s even more incumbent that the league intervenes.

Unfortunately, as long-time NHL fans can tell you, this also seems like the perfect chance for George Parros and company to turn a blind eye toward the infraction. The league’s disciplinary standards are famously muddy, and, given the fact that no contact was made, the DOPS can easily pass the back. Especially given the stakes of the situation — do you want to suspend a player for a potential elimination game? — it’s certainly a big call.

With all of that being said, though, this is a test that the NHL really can’t afford to fail on a variety of fronts. As mentioned above, the league hasn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to handing down logical discipline and protecting skill players from unnecessary physicality; this would be a start toward changing that. It would also strike a blow against retaliatory hockey culture and essentially say, ‘You can’t take revenge runs at opponents, even if you don’t follow through.’

To be clear, I can already imagine the fallout of a potential Perron suspension. Some fans will complain that the league is biased. Others will shout that hockey has gone soft and that you can’t punish someone for an attempt.

Dealing with those objections, however, is worth it. If the NHL is serious about building a future where skilled players take priority over acts of physical intimidation, they’ll need to lay down a marker at some point. This is the perfect chance to do just that. If you’re serious about taking unnecessary violence out of the game, you’re going to start handing out penalties that actually force players to change their behavior. A slap on the wrist isn’t going to cause anyone to think twice about throwing an elbow. Missing a season-deciding game, however, might weigh on a player’s mind.

“Attempted” or not, a dangerous play is a dangerous play. The NHL can’t afford to be the metaphorical Sideshow Bob here.

Update: Perron was fined $5,000 for his cross-check. The Twitter announcement made no reference to his attempted elbow.

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