Sharks’ Kevin Labanc suspended for slew-footing Blues’ Tyler Bozak

Sharks forward Kevin Labanc was suspended one game without pay by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Friday for slew-footing St. Louis Blues center Tyler Bozak the night before.

Labanc, based on his average annual salary, will forfeit $23,625 under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and miss the Sharks’ home game Saturday against the Washington Capitals. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

This is the first time Labanc has had supplemental discipline by the league in his six-year NHL career.

In the first period of Thursday’s game at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Bozak was chasing after a loose puck along the boards inside the Sharks’ zone to the left of goalie James Reimer. Labanc followed and nudged his right shoulder and his stick ahead of Bozak’s body as they closed in on the puck.

Labanc’s right leg was also positioned behind Bozak and when Labanc fell backward, intentionally or not, it caused Bozak to fall awkwardly into the boards.

The NHL, in its explanation video, determined that as Labanc fell backward, he kicked out Bozak’s stakes, “causing him to crash dangerously into the wall.”

Bozak remained on the ice momentarily but then got up and angrily went after Labanc, who was given a tripping penalty a the 8:59 mark of the first period. The Blues’ Brandon Saad scored on the ensuing power play, and St. Louis would go on to beat the Sharks 4-1.

The NHL said that what made the incident suspendable was the speed the players were traveling as they chased after the puck and their close proximity to the boards.

The league said Labanc left Bozak “with little ability to defend or protect himself prior to hitting the boards with force.”

Labanc said he was not purposely trying to take Bozak’s legs out from under him.

“I think it was just a fast play,” Labanc said after the game. “I was just trying to go in and beat him to the puck and I think (Bozak) leaned on me and then we’re trying to create a battle and then we kind of ran into each other and I went down.

“It wasn’t anything intentional. I didn’t look at the replay of it, but I think just trying to battle hard and create a battle in the corner.”

Bozak finished the game but had a season-low 8:45 of ice time.

Under NHL Rule 52, slew-footing is defined as the act of a player “using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under him or pushes an opponent’s upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of his leg, knocks or kicks the opponent’s feet from under him, causing him to fall violently to the ice.”

Any player guilty of slew-footing shall be assessed a match penalty, according to the rule, which adds that although there are no specified fines or suspensions for slew-footing, supplementary discipline can be applied by the NHL commissioner at his discretion.

Labanc, 25, has two goals and two assists in 11 games this season. He missed five games earlier this month after he was in the NHL’s COVID protocol and could not travel with the Sharks to Calgary and Winnipeg because of Canada’s travel restrictions for people who have recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Labanc is averaging 14:50 of ice time per game this season. He was moved from the third line to the fourth line before the Sharks’ game with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and remained on that line with Jasper Weatherby and Jonah Gadjovich for Thursday’s game.

With Labanc out Saturday, it’s possible that Nick Merkley could step into that fourth-line winger role. Merkley, who was assigned to the Barracuda earlier Friday, has been a healthy scratch the last two games.

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