Many NHL players have their own signature skill. Alex Ovechkin is the game's best goal scorer. Johnny Gaudreau is one of its best puckhandlers. Joe Thornton is one of the all-time great passers. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas also has a signature skill -- delivering dangerous hits, while usually avoiding suspension.
This particular skill came in handy again in Monday night's exhibition game against the New York Rangers. After racking up a number of ejections last season, Gudas was ejected once again. This time it was for boarding Rangers rookie forward Jimmy Vesey in the first period.
The hit looked pretty bad, but Vesey managed to return to the game and even scored a goal later.
Throughout the remainder of the game and well after, Gudas' hit dominated the conversation. Debate about whether or not he would be or should be suspended, questions about why Gudas so often ends up on the business end of a questionable hit, and even what Vesey's responsibility was to protect himself were all common themes.
As we learned Tuesday morning via multiple reports, Gudas will not have a suspension hearing with the Department of Player Safety. This one was actually fairly unsurprising. Vesey turning immediately prior to the hit let Gudas off the hook.
Why Gudas avoided supplementary discipline, as per Player Safety: "Gudas does not have time to adjust or avoid the hit once Vesey turns."— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) October 4, 2016
The reason this particular hit is going to get more attention -- even if under the rules as they are written now Gudas doesn't deserve supplemental discipline -- is because of the regularity with which Gudas delivers hits that are just on the borderline.
Last season, he actually was suspended one time. Gudas got three games for delivering an illegal check to the head of then Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejad.
However, mere weeks after that suspension, Gudas was ejected for clipping Montreal Canadiens forward Lucas Lessio. After that, he got a major for charging Buffalo Sabres forward Daniel Catenacci. Less than a week later, Gudas was ejected again after a hit on New Jersey Devils forward Bobby Farnham that was deemed an illegal check to the head well behind the play. None of those hits, as questionable as they were, drew a suspension.
His ability to continually avoid supplemental discipline would be almost impressive if he wasn't continually putting other players at risk.
There is a lot of hand-wringing over hits the Department of Player Safety should or shouldn't suspend a player for. That's a different debate, but the habitual nature of Gudas' questionable hits should be a bigger problem for the league than it appears to be.
The good news is that the referees are getting the calls right on the ice and making sure he at least sits for the remainder of the game. There's some level of accountability there, but is it enough if it keeps happening?
The hit on Vesey was a no-doubter ejection because hits like that are supposed to be automatic match penalties whether the opposing player turns his back or not. The referee is allowed to use discretion when it comes to the force with which a player is driven into the boards, which matters in determining the severity of the penalty on the ice. It only rises to the level of supplemental discipline if Gudas saw numbers the whole time and still delivered the hit anyway.
The amazing thing is that the number of times Gudas gets ejected or gets major penalties puts his team in a way tougher spot than if he were suspended. When Gudas gets tossed from a game, he can't be replaced in the lineup like he would if he were suspended. On top of that, his team has to kill a major penalty that won't come off the board until the five minutes are up. And it still hasn't forced him to change at all.
After his rash of questionable hits last year, Gudas reportedly had a meeting with coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall where they asked him to at least be more mindful of the checks he's delivering and try not to put the team in a tough spot.
So even if he isn't getting suspended, he's still negatively impacting the Flyers and he does it at a rate far more frequent than most other players. It's the kind of thing that should cost him playing time and with the Flyers boasting a long line of quality defense prospects, it very well could impact Gudas' value to the team.
For now, the Flyers probably want Gudas to play with an edge. They'd rather he not get ejected a lot, of course, but his identity as a player is that of an imposing physical defenseman. It's why he's in the league. However, until he tweaks his game just enough to avoid continually being at the center of these debates and conversations, he will continue putting his opponents at risk for more serious injury at a rate higher than most players in the league. Maybe he's fine with that. The league shouldn't be.