GLENDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Rusty Klesla left the ice on a stretcher after absorbing a big open-ice hit from the Los Angeles Kings’ Jordan Nolan at 9:44 of the first period of the teams’ preseason opener Sunday at Jobing.com Arena.
Coyotes assistant general manager Brad Treliving said the issue appeared to be with Klesla’s neck. Klesla was examined at the arena before being taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation. He was alert but still immobilized. Klesla was later diagnosed with a concussion and whiplash and was resting at home on Monday.
A replay of the hit showed Nolan clearly making first contact with Klesla’s head under the chin and leaving his feet on the follow-through. The hit could be grounds for suspension under Rule 48. The only mitigating factor was that Klesla was skating with his head down (a possibly vulnerable position), but the angle of his head does not appear to change before the hit is made.
“Seemed to me like our guy got hit in the head and their player left his feet, but that’s not for me to diagnose,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, noting that Klesla “got his bell rung pretty good.”
Klesla fell to the ice and his leg twitched for a moment before he lay motionless. With the team’s medical staff attending to him, Klesla was strapped to a stretcher with his head and neck immobilized and taken off the ice. As he left, he raised his left hand to tell the crowd he was OK and was greeted with cheers.
“Obviously, we think there’s a finish high, a finish off the ice,” captain Shane Doan said, recalling the hit former teammate Raffi Torres put on Chicago Blackhawks start Marian Hossa in the 2012 playoffs that earned Torres a 25-game suspension that was later reduced to 21.
“As we’ve been witness to,” Doan said of leaving the ice on a hit, “that’s usually not very good.”
Nolan and Coyotes center Martin Hanzal earned roughing penalties for a scuffle after the play, and Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette left the bench to fight Nolan immediately after the 24-year-old forward left the penalty box. That move could cost Bissonette a lengthy suspension, depending on the league’s determination.
NHL spokesperson Jon Dellapina said Nolan’s hit is already under review by the league, which is part of the normal process since the league has a coordinator (game-watcher) assigned to every game.
“The review process begins moments after any hit that is even potentially problematic,” Dellapina wrote in an email. “Unless and until a hit is deemed unworthy of supplemental discipline, the members of the Department of Player Safety keep reviewing it and discussing — right up to and through any potential hearing.”
In general, the department hopes to conduct a hearing before a player’s next game, but prefers to take its time when it can. LA plays Anaheim on Tuesday in Anaheim. If a hearing needs to be in person (potentially 6 games or more), a player can be suspended pending the hearing.
Nolan was fined last season for a cross-check on Henrik Sedin, but he has no suspension history. That is generally a factor if/when the league decides to mete out suspensions.
When asked about the play, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said: “It was a good hit.”
Here’s what Nolan told lakingsinsider.com about the hit: “I thought it was clean. He was skating through the middle of his ice and I was just focusing on his chest, and I feel like I hit him square in the chest.”