Walker states his case, avoids suspension for Ward punch

Earlier today, it was reported that Scott Walker(notes) of the Carolina Hurricanes had been suspended for one game for this Game 5 sucker punch (video) of Aaron Ward(notes) of the Boston Bruins.

That was accurate, as per Rule 47.22 of the NHL's rule book; in case you haven't committed it to memory:

47.22 Fines and Suspensions - Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime) - A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime, shall automatically be suspended for one game. The Director of Hockey Operations will review every such incident and may rescind the suspension based on a number of criteria. The criteria for the review shall include, but not limited to, the score, previous incidents, etc. The length of suspension will double for each subsequent offense. This suspension shall be served in addition to any other automatic suspensions a player may incur for an accumulation of three or more instigator penalties.

When the one-game suspension is imposed, the Coach shall be fined $10,000 - a fine that will double for each subsequent incident. No team appeals will be permitted either verbally or in writing regarding the assessment of this automatic suspension.

The bolded section of the rule is the reason why Scott Walker will actually be eligible to play in Game 6 of the Hurricanes/Bruins series on Tuesday night in Raleigh. Despite earning an instigator at 17:13 of the third period, his automatic suspension was rescinded this afternoon by the NHL. He was given a $2,500 fine for his actions.

The key passage in a statement released by the Hurricanes and Walker: "Based on what was said on the ice as I was dropping my gloves, it was my understanding that I was engaged in an altercation."

So Walker successfully argued to the NHL that he figured a fight was about to start with Ward; it wasn't so much a sucker punch as being suckered into a punch. The League evidently believed him, and didn't factor in Ward's potential facial injuries.

This isn't the first time this season the NHL has overruled an automatic suspension stemming from actions at the end of a game. Brendan Morrow of the Dallas Stars had his one-gamer overturned after it was ruled his fight against the Los Angeles Kings was prompted by an injurious hit on his teammate.

Of course, the notion that there's wiggle room on what is termed an "automatic suspension" just reinforces the farcical nature of the NHL's rule of law. Only the National Hockey League can turn a mandatory minimum into a "Get Out of Jail for $2,500" card.

Then again, Walker's presence will certainly heighten the anticipation for Game 6. Has another playoff series gone from zero-to-awesome with this velocity? (Thanks to Dana M. for the tip.)

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