Entering this season, Washington Capitals defenseman John Erskine had never been suspended before and only received one fine. So he figured that track record would perhaps lead to a more lenient punishment from the NHL after he elbowed Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds in the head Friday night at Verizon Center.
That, though, was not the case when Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, announced Erskine’s three-game suspension Saturday. While Shanahan acknowledged Erskine is not a repeat offender and there was no malicious intent, he called the play “reckless,” both in a video released by the league and in a phone conversation with Erskine.
“I’m not happy with the suspension. He did what he had to do,” Erskine said of Shanahan in his first public comments since being suspended. “It was more of a reflex and my elbow came up at the last second. I wasn’t targeting his head or trying to injure him.
“I don’t think it was a reckless play or a reckless elbow. I wasn’t flying down the ice at 100 miles an hour with my elbow up in the air, but that’s what he called it and I’ve got to live with it.”
Erskine was not penalized for the hit in last Friday’s 3-2 win over Philadelphia, but Simmonds suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely. Erskine said he has since sent Simmonds a text message to express his remorse over the incident and expressed hope that the Flyers forward would be able to return to the lineup soon.
“I think any type of head shots you’ve got to look at. You don’t want that in the game,” Erskine said. “But mine, it was by accident.”
The rugged defenseman also forfeited $24,324.33 in salary because of the suspension. But Erskine was more perturbed that he won’t be able to play in a game again until Feb. 9 against the Florida Panthers, because “I was kind of on a roll there.”
After being a healthy scratch to start this season, the 6-4, 220-pound blueliner logged more than 17 minutes of ice time in his five appearances before the suspension and even scored a goal in Washington’s first win of the year against Buffalo.
“The good thing about this is we have so many games so quickly, so it’s not like I’m on the shelf for a week and a half or two weeks. It’s gonna be a quick five days, so I’m gonna get right back at it.”
“I was getting to know the system a little bit more after you get a few games under your belt and I think when anybody’s getting a lot of ice time, your confidence is up. I just felt like I played with confidence.” …
Oates indicated Monday that while Erskine is sidelined, he has no plans to change his defensive pairings. When asked about veteran blueliner Roman Hamrlik, who hasn’t played since a Jan. 24 loss to Montreal, Oates responded, “He’s a big boy. He’ll get his chance.”
“I feel like the last week we’ve been playing better hockey,” he added. “The six guys that have been playing have been a part of that, so that’s why they’re playing.”