Kyle Clifford and Dale Weise fight in a Kings-Canucks game. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
There has been a lot of talk lately about Boston’s Milan Lucic running over Buffalo’s star netminder Ryan Miller and the lack of reaction from the other Sabres on the ice at the time. The hit got me thinking about frontier justice. Got me thinking I’m all for it.
Miller is out indefinitely with a concussion, while Lucic escaped additional punishment from the NHL. Sabres center Paul Gaustad publicly stated he was “embarrassed” he didn’t do more in the initial scrum and Miller has now had to tell the media he knows the team has his back, even though no one dropped the gloves with Boston’s lead bad boy.
Now, you may wonder what Gaustad could have done differently on the play. By the time he got to the fray, there were about six players between him and Lucic. Nathan Horton grabbed the Sabres tough guy and nothing resulted in the overall scrum other than some shoving.
So here’s what I’m wondering: If you’re Gaustad and your goaltender just got steamrolled, but you can’t get at the perp, why not just beat the crap out of the guy nearest to you? To paraphrase an old hippie song, if you can’t pummel the one you want, pummel the one you’re with.
Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with Horton specifically. The fact he himself was concussed on a controversial play during the Stanley Cup last season and is therefore a little more vulnerable to violence than most has nothing to do with it. If it makes you feel any better, pretend David Krejci or Rich Peverley was Gaustad’s dance partner instead – the important part here is you want a player the 6-foot-5 Buffalo center normally wouldn’t fight.
In this little Machiavellian scenario I’ve imagined, Gaustad feeds his overmatched opponent a veritable buffet of knuckles, then looks over to Lucic and says, “Hey, you made me do this. If you don’t want me beating up your skill players, don’t run my goalie.”
I recognize punching out someone beneath your weight class is taboo in the NHL now, but so is wrecking a defenseless netminder – not to mention the Sabres’ biggest name. The Code had already been broken and to say two wrongs don’t make a right misses the point. Athletes often use war as a metaphor to pump themselves up for competition, so why shouldn’t they go all Sun-Tzu once in a while? You may balk at frontier justice, but it’s still justice – and that’s always better than law.
Don’t believe me? Ask Sabres fans how they felt when NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan explained why Lucic would not be suspended. Shanahan’s not necessarily wrong according to the laws of the league, but I doubt that brings any comfort to Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, who is now without a vocal leader and an Olympian in his lineup (karmic justice even kicks in here, as backup goalie Jhonas Enroth has been spectacular for the Sabres all year and continued his success post-Miller injury).
In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, former St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist recalled an incident where Detroit’s Martin Lapointe was taking liberties with a young Chris Pronger, but turtled when Twist challenged him on it. In retaliation, the Blues policeman told his Red Wings counterpart, Joey Kocur, he was going to two-hand Steve Yzerman, knowing Kocur would then fight him. Twist then told Kocur he’d continue to attack Yzerman unless Lapointe backed off on Pronger. Message received.
Twist wouldn’t have gone after Yzerman ordinarily, but he said Lapointe broke The Code first. I don’t see why a player such as Gaustad would have been wrong for doing something similar.
Ryan Kennedy is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.