NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension of Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta, the league announced Thursday afternoon.
Kaleta was suspended by the NHL Department of Player Safety for an illegal check to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson two weeks ago. After consulting with his agent and the NHL Players' Association, Kaleta decided to appeal the ruling. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players have the option of meeting with an independent arbitrator to contest any suspension.
In order to do so, they must first conduct a hearing with commissioner Bettman where he can agree with, limit or increase the original suspension. After a hearing that lasted in excess of three hours on Monday, Bettman ruled that the 10-game suspension would be upheld.
The defense was anchored by testimony from Kaleta, Buffalo manager Darcy Regier and counsel, which contended that Kaleta's hit was not a violation of Rule 48 because Kaleta could not have avoided contact with Johnson's head.
The defense stated that Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety didn't consider movement by Johnson in the moments before the hit, which "significantly" contributed to head contact. In addition, they argued that Kaleta could not have taken a different route to hit Johnson, because he was adhering to the structure of Buffalo's back-checking system.
They also believe that the Department of Player Safety inaccurately used past incidents from other players as comparable precedent.
Commissioner Bettman disagreed with this defense and went as far to say that he felt the hit should have never taken place:
While I am not prepared to conclude that Mr. Kaleta could have, or should have, taken another "angle of approach" on the hit from its inception, I do conclude that he could have and should have avoided the hit altogether. As Mr. Shanahan testified at the hearing, "I think that there was also the option of not throwing the check. That [is] always an option."
In addition, the commissioner made note of Kaleta's extensive discipline history and commented on Kaleta's "remarkable record" over the span of an eight-year playing career. He also stated that Kaleta displayed a "total disregard" for other players and specifically noted his consistent contact with their heads.
Now that an appeal has been heard with Bettman, Kaleta will have seven days to file a request to meet with an independent arbitrator. It's expected that he will look to explore that route.