Hiring Scott Stevens would make player safety department top heavy with bruisers

Ken Campbell
Paul Kariya after a Scott Stevens hit. Photo by: Brian Bahr/Getty Images/NHLI)

Well, there seems to be no shortage of outrage that Scott Stevens is being seriously considered for a post with the NHL’s department of player safety. That has something to do with the fact that if the department of player safety existed and had its current mandate when Stevens played, he would have been called on the carpet so often he probably would have had his own parking spot.

But to suggest Stevens played outside the rules is absurd. In fact, he played entirely inside the rules. The fact that the NHL’s rules, or lack of them, allowed players to take runs from the other end of the ice, lift their feet and drill their elbows into their opponents’ skulls when applying open-ice hits was not Stevens’ fault. The fact is Stevens was not a dirty player at all, he was a devastating open-ice hitter. He played 1,635 games and was suspended only twice for a total of four games. And of his 2,785 career penalty minutes, only eight of them were for elbowing penalties. Never once was Stevens suspended for one of his hits.

The league has its share of rambunctious players deciding now whether or not the guys on the ice will be suspended. The guy who runs the department, Stephane Quintal, was certainly no shrinking violet, with more than 1,300 penalty minutes. Chris Pronger was suspended eight times during his career and was one of the dirtiest players of all-time. And take a look who has run that department in recent years – Brian Burke, Colin Campbell and Brendan Shanahan – none of whom you’d like to meet in a corner.

But the department has also employed Brian Leetch, a skilled defenseman whose highest PIM total for a season was 67. And a big part of the decision making group includes Patrick Burke and Damian Echevarrieta, who have never played a shift at the pro level. It also includes hockey operations people Colin Campbell, Mike Murphy and Kris King, all former players.

So, yeah, if Stevens is added to that group it is a little top-heavy with guys who played a physical game. And there’s certainly nothing terribly wrong with that, but wouldn’t you for once like to see a guy like Mike Bossy or Pierre Turgeon be part of the decision-making process? You know, just to even things out a little. After all, if there’s always a place for guys with multiple suspensions and penalty minutes in the thousands, surely it could be balanced out with a couple of guys who won the Lady Byng Trophy and approached the game from a different perspective.

But that just doesn’t seem to be the way this league rolls. In fact, the department of player safety’s own mission statement reads this way: “We are committed to making the game as safe as possible for our players,” which is all good. But then it goes on to say, “while preserving the intensely physical, competitive and passionate nature of hockey.” Which is basically the NHL’s way of saying, “Yeah, we want the players to be safe, but make no mistake, we have no intention of turning this game into four-on-four ringette.”

Shouldn’t a department of player safety be concerned with making the game as safe as possible for all its players, full stop? Why does it need to be concerned with anything else. Decide whether a player’s safety was put at risk and whether the incident surrounding it broke the rules. That’s about it.

The league is capable of penalizing bad hits such as the John Moore hit on Erik Haula without fearing having hitting removed from the game. Case in point, was the Eric Gryba hit on Artem Anisimov. Anisimov was hurt on the play, largely because his helmet popped off, but the department saw the hit as a legal shoulder-to-chest hit that had a bad outcome. It decided no suspension was warranted and there’s no trouble with that.

But it would indeed be nice if the people making those decisions weren’t tilted so heavily in the direction of the guys who used to make those kinds of hits rather than receive them.

NHL suspends Rangers’ John Moore five games for headshot

Adam Proteau
Erik Haula and John Moore (Getty Images)

The NHL’s department of player safety suspended New York Rangers defenseman John Moore five games for his headshot on Minnesota Wild center Erik Haula Monday. Moore will lose $51,859.75 in salary for the hit, which occurred in the second period of Monday’s game. But really, he should be thankful he plays in a league and in a culture that doesn’t take harsher measures to curb concussions.

When Moore barrelled into Haula, who had just finished shooting the puck, he clearly had no fear of the consequences for what at best can be termed a borderline hit. But imagine if he did. Imagine if he knew that, as the repeat offender that he was, he could be suspended for a minimum of 20 games. Having that knowledge in the back of his head might not have stopped him from making the same split-second decision, but who’s to say it would have no effect? Players (and their families) would be acutely aware of the significant financial penalty they would pay, and there’s every possibility their behavior would be modified and the likelihood of a repeat offense would decrease. Read more

Eric Gryba on Artem Anisimov: Predatorial headshot or clean hit?

Eric Gryba (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

When people talk about the director of player safety being the most thankless job on the planet, they might want to reference the hit Eric Gryba of the Ottawa Senators put on Artem Anisimov of the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night.

Because that hit epitomizes the rock-and-a-hard-place situation in which Stephane Quintal and his lieutenants often find themselves. If he suspends Gryba for the hit, he comes under fire from those who don’t see anything wrong with it and claim the NHL is trying to take checking out of the game. He allows it to go unpunished and he comes under attack from observers who believe the NHL is being complacent when it comes to making headhunters accountable for their actions.

For the record, Gryba received a match penalty and a game misconduct for the hit, which popped Anisimov’s helmet off before his head struck the ice. He did not return to the game and is out day-to-day with an apparent concussion.

Here’s a look at the hit from two different angles:

I’ve watched this hit numerous times from several angles in slow motion and I still can’t figure out whether or not it deserves a suspension. Do his feet leave the ice? Doesn’t appear so? Is the principle point of contact the head? Looks like a shoulder to chest hit more than anything? Was Gryba headhunting an unsuspecting player? Well, we’ll never know exactly what was going through Gryba’s head during the play, but it certainly doesn’t look like it.

Two things we should keep in mind here. The first is that Gryba is a repeat offender by the NHL’s definition for the suspension he received for his headshot on Lars Eller in the playoffs in 2012. But it’s also important to remember that his status as a repeat offender should, and will, have nothing to do with determining guilt or innocence here. That’s why a person’s criminal past is not allowed to be used as evidence during a trial. Now if he’s deemed to be guilty, then his status of a repeat offender will be held against him.

The second is the extent of the injury. It’s impossible to tell 100 percent whether Anisimov received any damage from the impact of the hit itself, but its indisputable that his bare head hit the ice when he fell. Whether Gryba was headhunting or not, should he be held liable for the fact that Anisimov did not secure his chin strap enough to prevent it from popping off his head upon impact? The answer is, of course, no.

It certainly wouldn’t be outlandish for the NHL to decide to not have a hearing with Gryba for this hit, unlike the in-person hearing it’s going to have with John Moore of the New York Rangers over this hit:

That one will probably earn Moore a six-game suspension. But with the Gryba hit, it’s difficult to determine whether there’s even any recklessness at play here. Was this just a case of a big guy seeing an opportunity to make a hit and making the most of it – nothing wrong with that in anyone’s NHL – or someone who was truly trying to do more than separate his opponent from the puck? When a 6-foot-4, 225-pound guy makes moving contact, sometimes it’s not going to turn out well.

One thing I do know: I wouldn’t want to be occupying Quintal’s chair on this file.

AHL suspends Brad Mills 20 games for failing performance-enhancing drug test

Adam Proteau
Brad Mills (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

The American Hockey League announced Tuesday a 20-game suspension for Binghamton Senators Brad Mills after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

The 31-year-old Mills, who had one goal and two points in 34 games of NHL experience with the New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks, was in his first year in Binghamton after an eight-year AHL career that included stops in Lowell, Albany and Rockford; he has already sat out four games after the Senators removed him from the lineup last week once the test result came in, and he’s eligible to return to the lineup Dec. 12. Read more

Pair of Rangers could be in line for suspensions after questionable hits

Adam Proteau
Chris Kreider (Getty Images)

NHL chief disciplinarian Stephane Quintal and the rest of the NHL department of player safety will have a busy Tuesday after a pair of questionable incidents and ejections took place Monday night in the same game between the Rangers and Wild.

The first took place late in the first period, when Rangers winger Chris Kreider drilled Minnesota defenseman Jonas Brodin into the end boards with a hit from behind that left Brodin in a heap on the ice:

Kreider received a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct; Brodin had to be helped off, but returned to play in the second period. However, the nastiness only got worse from there, because for some inexplicable reason midway through the second, Blueshirts defenseman John Moore decided to throw an elbow at the head of Wild center Erik Haula: Read more

NHL suspends Sharks’ John Scott two games for leaving bench

Adam Proteau
John Scott (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As expected, the NHL handed out its first suspension of the season for a regular-season on-ice incident Monday, hitting San Jose Sharks winger John Scott with a two-game ban for leaving the bench to start a fight with Ducks winger Tim Jackman Sunday.

As the NHL department of player safety made clear in a now standard video explanation it hands out after each suspension, Scott left the bench on a legal line change, but made no effort to play the puck and instead instigated a fight with Jackman. Scott himself admitted he had no intent to join the play and was strictly interested in throwing fists: Read more

Semyon Varlamov sued by ex-girlfriend for alleged abuse

Matt Larkin
The lawsuit against Semyon Varlamov seeks more than $1 million in charges, according to TMZ.  (Getty Images)

The spotlight shone on Kings blueliner Slava Voynov last week after he was arrested on domestic violence charges, but it’s shifted back to Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov now. Varlamov’s ex-girlfriend, Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, has slapped him with a civil lawsuit stemming from last year’s domestic violence incident.

Last fall, misdemeanor assault charges against Varlamov, which could’ve resulted in jail time, were dropped. Denver prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the charges because they believed they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Varlamov assaulted Vavrinyuk Oct. 29, 2013. District attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimsborough insisted “that’s not to say we don’t believe our victim,” however.

Now, Vavrinyuk will look for justice a second time against Varlamov, as TMZ Sports has learned of the lawsuit, in which she will seek more than $1 million, according to TMZ’s sources.

The suit, filed in Colorado by attorney Keith Fink, contains scathing and serious allegations. Stick tap to Pro Hockey Talk, who obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which can be read here. It corroborates TMZ’s reports and alleges Vavriynuk “feared for her life.” The suit describes the alleged assaults in disturbing detail. Here’s an excerpt chronicling the first alleged assault. To warn you, the content is graphic:

Read more

Like it or not, Sharks/Ducks-type brawling an increasing rarity in today’s NHL

Adam Proteau
Ducks and Sharks players brawl. (Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Sharks and host Ducks engaged in a nasty little bit of NHL business late Sunday night when the two teams combined for 165 penalty minutes, nine fighting majors and eight misconducts in San Jose’s 4-1 win over Anaheim. Included in the mess were multiple ejections to players from both teams (including Ducks star Corey Perry and Sharks blueliner Justin Braun) a third period brawl and the second fight of the game between Anaheim’s Tim Jackman and San Jose’s John Scott, who left the bench in direct violation of Rule 70.2 to get into it with Jackman late in the third period.

(Some will say Scott was on a line change, but Rule 70.2 stipulates even legal line changes that lead to the instigation of a fight can be subject to supplemental discipline, and there’s no doubt that’s what Scott did.)

The win snapped both the Ducks’ seven-game win streak and the Sharks’ four-game losing skid. But the game also was significant in that it was arguably the first game of the regular season in which the NHL has sufficient evidence by which to suspend a player for his on-ice actions. Things can change in a single game, obviously, but when many teams have played ten percent of their season without some episode of superfluous chest beating occurring, there might just be evidence of an actual culture change beginning to take root among players and within league management circles.

The evidence of the different times in which the NHL now operates is all around us: over here, Sabres coach Ted Nolan, no dainty peacenik in his playing career, correctly notes the pointlessness of a staged fight; over there, former Canucks, Oilers and Rangers head coach and new Hockey Canada president Tom Renney is taking a bold stance against fighting (“(H)ockey is not the WWE. And this sport must teach many things to young people about character, integrity, teamwork, not fighting.”); Read more