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Vigneault furious Simmonds not suspended, McDonagh concussed

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Rangers coach Alain Vigneault couldn’t have been angrier on Monday morning if he’d been fired by Jim Dolan.

Vigneault still has a job, unlike canned ex-Knicks coach Derek Fisher, but he doesn’t have captain Ryan McDonagh (concussion, out indefinitely). So he was apoplectic when Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds received no fine or suspension from the NHL’s department of player safety for his sucker-punch to McDonagh’s head Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

“What I didn’t expect was the reaction from the league,” Vigneault said as he stewed through his morning press conference at the Garden with the Rangers preparing to host the New Jersey Devils. “An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down – I wonder if that’s (Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney) Crosby what happens, or what the consequence is?”

Vigneault is well aware he could be fined for accusing the NHL of favoring Crosby, whom the Rangers just so happen to face Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. But the coach was far from venting over the news that GM Jeff Gorton had delivered after talking directly with the league on Sunday.

“On top of that, their player breaks his stick, throws it at the referee. In the rulebook that’s automatic, it’s three games, and nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game,” Vigneault said of Simmonds’ snapping his stick over the boards and tossing it at the officials. “The referee came to me because I said, ‘Am I getting a power play here?’ And he said, ‘No, no, he’s getting a game misconduct for throwing his stick at us.’ And it’s not on the sheet. I think maybe you guys should call the league and find out what happened, because obviously we’re getting different answers.”

IMPROVING RANGERS BRACE FOR RIVAL DEVILS

Captain Ryan McDonagh is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. His Rangers teammates were forced to host the New Jersey Devils on Monday night without him.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Captain Ryan McDonagh is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. His Rangers teammates were forced to host the New Jersey Devils on Monday night without him.

Adding insult were the Flyers’ accusations that McDonagh had taken a dive after taking Simmonds’ punch.

The MSG broadcast reported that Simmonds had accused McDonagh of diving on the ice before being ejected with a match penalty for “intent to injure” McDonagh, and Flyers play-by-play announcer Jim Jackson said on the Comcast Philadelphia broadcast that “McDonagh might wanna get two (minutes) for acting, well.”

Vigneault screamed back at Simmonds from the bench and on Monday the Rangers’ coach was no less angry about the Flyers’ accusations of embellishment.

“Tell them to go see him at his house today,” he said with a grimace.

Vigneault texted with McDonagh on Sunday but had not talked to him on Monday morning.

The NHL’s department of player safety does not defend non-decisions publicly, but it would be impossible for the league to do so here anyway. Simmonds was allowed to play in the Flyers’ 3-2 loss in Washington on Sunday while McDonagh is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion from a shot to the head that the NHL – and professional sports leagues in general – claim to be more sensitive about eliminating.

Simmonds, a known agitator, has no disciplinary record of suspensions or fines in his 575-game career, but the NHL is only supposed to consider a player’s record once an infraction is determined worthy of discipline. That means league officials somehow objectively saw no need for further action on discouraging the punch.

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There is an explanation for Vigneault’s confusion about Simmonds not receiving a three-game suspension for throwing his stick at an official, though, even if it isn’t acceptable rationale to the Rangers coach. Basically, the referees determined that Simmonds’ intent was not to injure an official, nor did he come close to doing so.

Vigneault believes Simmonds should have been docked three games under Rule 40.4, Automatic Suspension – Category III within Physical Abuse of Officials in the NHL rulebook. The rule reads: “Any player who, by his actions, physically demeans an official or physical threatens an official by (but not limit to) throwing a stick or any other piece of equipment or object at or in the general direction of an official, shooting the puck at or in the general direction of an official, spitting at or in the general direction of an official, or who deliberately applies physical force to an official solely for the purpose of getting free of such an official during or immediately following an altercation shall be suspended for not less than three games.”

Simmonds received a game-misconduct for throwing his stick, though, under Rule 39.5, Section 6 within the Game Misconduct Penalty section that reads only: “Game misconduct penalties shall be assessed under this rule for the following infractions: (vi) Any player, coach or non-playing person who throws or shoots equipment or other object in the general direction of an official but does not come close to making any contact. This action may occur on or off ice.”

Regardless, Vigneault has no idea how long McDonagh will be sidelined and was forced to start four right-handed defensemen and two lefties on Monday against the Devils, inserting rookie Dylan McIlrath in place of McDonagh. Vigneault prefers not to play defensemen on their weak sides, though, so a call-up of Brady Skjei or Chris Summers from the AHL is likely in the near-future if McDonagh does not improve.

Gorton perhaps was reluctant to call up an extra defenseman Sunday or Monday also since the team is so close up against the salary cap ceiling, but they may have no choice if this new alignment doesn’t work out with right-handed veteran Dan Boyle likely moving to the weak left side against New Jersey.

“For tonight we’re gonna go with the six that we have here, and Jeff and I talked yesterday,” Vigneault said. “We talked about his conversations with the league and we talked about a whole bunch of things, and we’re going with the six that we have today and after the game we’ll decide what we’re gonna do.”

The injury news is bad all around for the Rangers, too: Rick Nash (left leg bone bruise) has backed off his rehabilitation schedule because his injury is not improving despite sitting out the team’s last five games.

“We’ve been talking about slowing him down a little bit because we didn’t see the progression that we thought we would see with that bone bruise,” Vigneault said of Nash. “He’s been off the ice now for three days. Today he came in and said he was feeling a lot better so we might give him a day or two more (off). That’s another inexact science, the bone bruise, so we’ll see how he feels in a day or two and then go from there.”

That presumably rules Nash out at least through Wednesday night’s one-city trip to visit the Penguins. McDonagh’s injury, though, is particularly discouraging given how well the captain has been playing lately. He and forward J.T. Miller have been the Blueshirts’ best players in the last month.

“The way Ryan was playing at this time, he is finding his game,” Vigneault said. “The best part of his game is when he’s skating, he’s beating the forecheck and he’s jumping up in the play at the right time. When he’s feeling good about his game and himself, he’s a tremendous offensive defenseman and he’s a great defender. You can match him up against all the top players and he loves that challenge.

“We’re gonna have to take this day-by-day,” the coach continued. “It’s an opportunity for some other guys to get some more ice time step up and play well for us. You don’t just replace one of your top players. You need a group of guys to come in and give you a little bit more. That’s what we’re hoping we’re gonna get.”

Tags:
alain vigneault ,
ryan mcdonagh ,
wayne simmonds ,
rick nash ,
new york rangers ,
philadelphia flyers ,
nhl ,
sports concussions ,
sports injuries

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