The Toronto Maple Leafs avoided their sixth suspension of the season Friday when Joffrey Lupul received just a fine for cross-checking Patrick Eaves in the neck during the Winter Classic.
Lupul, who said he was trying to cross-check the Detroit Red Wings forward in the arm, was docked $10,000 after a disciplinary hearing with the NHL department of player safety. That's the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement and less than one-fifth of one per cent of his $5.25-million salary.
Linemate Nazem Kadri saw the replay of Lupul's cross-check that knocked Eaves out of the game and came away believing his stick just slid up the shoulder pad. He did not believe Lupul was targeting Eaves' head or neck.
"I know Joffrey's not out there to hurt anybody," Kadri said. "He's a pretty innocent player, plays hard and clean.
"Honestly it was just one of those things they were both battling, both bent over. I don't even think Joffrey was looking at him at the time. It was, to me, pretty obvious that he didn't really mean to do it."
Lupul was considered a repeat offender because he was suspended two games last season for a head shot on Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman. He was given a two-minute minor on the play, and Eaves — who has a history of concussions — did not return to the game.
It seemed as though the Leafs were planning for Lupul not to be suspended because he was skating in his normal spot on the second line alongside Mason Raymond and Kadri. When Kadri was facing supplemental discipline for elbowing Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom in the head in November, he was relegated to the fourth line at practice.
"Are you going to read anything into it? You guys are going to do whatever you do," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It doesn't matter what I have to say, so you answer your own questions."
The NHL answered the question Friday afternoon, ensuring the Leafs wouldn't have to juggle their lineup for Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers. Carlyle said his team had options if Lupul was suspended, including bumping David Clarkson (three goals, five assists in 30 games) or rookie Jerry D'Amigo up the lineup.
That won't be necessary.
Carlyle explained his perspective on Lupul's cross-check as a response to a hit just before from Detroit's Jakub Kindl.
"I'm sure he wasn't responding to Eaves — he was responding to Kindl," Carlyle said. "It was unfortunate that his stick did come up, and he did what he did."
Counting the pre-season, the Leafs have endured six suspensions that have cost them a total of 19 regular-season games. Players have so far forfeited $527,177.48 in salary after Lupul's fine.