The NHL DoPS verdict came down swiftly today, suspending Auston Matthews for two games for his cross-check on Rasmus Dahlin in yesterday’s Heritage Classic.

Matthews will miss the games against Dallas and Carolina this week while forfeiting $116k in salary.

For a perennial Lady Byng candidate with no priors, this is a joke. It has as much to do with the spotlight on the team and the event in which the incident took place as the actual infraction, which isn’t too far removed from everyday scrum behaviour that often goes unnoticed across the league:

The precedent here is that this is a fine at most and not a suspendable play. But if we’re going to sit here and point out the inconsistencies in the DoPS judgments and the role the media plays in elevating some incidents over others, we’d be here all day.

This has more to do with the fact that the Sportsnet panel instantly dedicated a segment to it, immediately framing it as a, “how many games?” question as opposed to, “Is there a clear precedent for a suspension for this type of incident?” This, plus the attention it all got on social media, sent the DoPS into a “reactionary need to respond to public outrage” mindset rather than fairly assessing the incident based on player safety concerns and the established precedent — thus the speed of the announcement of a scheduled hearing last night, and the expedited verdict this afternoon. That’s the reality of the league we’re following here.

With that, a team that is perennially among the least penalized in the league has now received eight games worth of suspensions this season — both on players (Matthews, Jason Spezza) with no suspension history over many hundred games in the league. There were no serious injuries resulting from either incident.

This does provide the opportunity to give Auston Matthews a few days of hard-earned rest.  In terms of lineup implications, it creates the opportunity to move John Tavares next to Mitch Marner on the top line, which could help get the Leafs‘ captain going a little more at 5v5. That would leave William Nylander and Alex Kerfoot on a second line with Ondrej Kase or Nick Robertson and would allow the team’s excelling third line of David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, and Pierre Engvall to stay intact, but we’ll see what combinations Sheldon Keefe comes up with in practice tomorrow.

It can sometimes be a jolt to the system that forces the rest of the team to refocus and step up their game when the superstar that has carried the team to many wins this season is out of the lineup. In addition to some intrigue around new line combinations, it will be interesting to see how the Leafs respond this week.