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Goalie Suspensions Are Rare, But Dell Deserves This One

Aaron Dell has been suspended for three games.

NHL: JAN 25 Sabres at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Aaron Dell recently became the first NHL netminder in a long time - likely since 2007 - to receive a suspension from the league for on-ice conduct. It’s incredibly rare that a goaltender receives supplemental discipline like this, and there are genuinely only a small handful of examples to point to throughout history.

At the NHL level, you may think of Jamie McLennan, who was suspended for five games following an incident in a 2007 playoff game. He was playing with the Calgary Flames at the time & slashed Johan Franzen first in the leg (twice), and then in the stomach.

McLennan never actually served the suspension, as he signed with a team in Hokkaidō, Japan the following season and then announced his retirement.

More recently, in the AHL, Cal Heeter was suspended three games while playing with the Adirondack Phantoms in February 2014. Heeter came off the bench to fight Louis Domingue:

Heeter had previously been suspended by the ECHL on January 27, 2013 while playing with the Trenton Titans. He fired the puck away from his net after a go-ahead goal by the opponent, and the puck went into the stands. That time, Heeter was given a game misconduct for “throwing equipment” and was suspended pending a review.

Realistically - and particularly at the NHL level - goalies simply don’t often commit infractions that warrant suspensions. Sure, you’ll see a goalie get a penalty here and there, but it’s not typically anything atrocious enough to be deserving of further punishment. In the case of Aaron Dell, the on-ice officials didn’t call a penalty, but everyone watching knew that NHL Player Safety would come calling eventually.

Fans - or in this case, not Dell fans - have been quick to point out this incident from when Dell was with the San Jose Sharks, too. This was in 2019:

He also did this a few weeks ago in a game against the Nashville Predators, and was called for interference on the play:

Simply put, a goaltender can’t get involved in the play like Dell did with Ottawa Senators forward Drake Batherson. No skater in that situation will ever expect to be interfered with by the goaltender; he’s not making any kind of play with the puck. It may not be an explicit rule, but it’s at least an unspoken one, just as you wouldn’t expect a skater to randomly interfere with a goaltender. If goalies are out here making moves like this, they’re going to become fair game themselves.

For the NHL to protect its skaters, and its goaltenders, the league had no choice but to hand down a suspension. Frankly, Dell is lucky it was only three games. If he does something else within the next 18 months and is considered a repeat offender, he’d probably be looking at a five- or six-game suspension instead. Meanwhile, Batherson is likely out “a couple of months” with an ankle injury.

While suspensions for goaltenders are rare - at least for on-ice conduct - this one is absolutely deserved. Now, we wait for the next three games to pass and see what happens when (if?) Dell returns to the Sabres lineup.