The league decided not to suspend Steve Downie for his sucker punch on Jason Blake Saturday night.
It’s quite obvious that 52 games worth of suspensions from the NHL’s head office has done nothing to convince the Philadelphia Flyers and some of their players that they’re either crazy or reckless, or both.
But perhaps losing one of their own star players because of their blatant disregard for the rulebook will help get the message through.
Let’s begin with the assumption Steve Downie is just a little bit slow on the uptake here. The same player who was repeatedly suspended in junior hockey and received 20 games for his attempt to behead Dean McAmmond, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he has some serious anger management issues when he sucker punched Jason Blake of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the eye during a post-whistle scrum Saturday night.
So from a deterrent standpoint, it probably doesn’t really matter that the league has decided not to suspend Downie. There’s obviously nothing the NHL can do to this 20-year-old to stop him from showing a blatant disregard for his opponents and the game, and to the Flyers for continuing to condone his actions.
It’s pretty predictable what will happen next. Downie will get beaten up a couple of times by some no-talent thugs, the law of the jungle will prevail and the knuckle draggers will be elated that their style of frontier justice and their reasons for having these kinds of players in the league will have been justified.
That’s pretty sad, really. Of course, that’s what happens when a league cannot police itself. Players such as Downie don’t pay penalties for what they do, so players and teams feel the need to mete them out instead.
The NHL might want to send the message to other players and teams that it’s not acceptable to sucker punch other players while they’re in vulnerable positions, but everyone knows the league has no interest in doing that. Even NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell tacitly acknowledged that when he recently said, “We sell hate.”
How a high-ranking executive of a major league, particularly the one in charge of discipline, can say that without any repercussions boggles the mind. But much of what Campbell and the NHL does boggles the mind.
So much for Philadelphia being on double-secret probation after their first four suspensions of the season.
But perhaps the Flyers will learn something from the fact they’ll be without Joffrey Lupul for at least two weeks after he suffered a concussion and a bruised spinal cord. Because the only reason it happened was that he was decked by his own teammate’s illegal hit.
The only reason why it’s Lupul and not Maple Leafs winger Alexander Steen who is injured, is that Flyer defenseman Derian Hatcher’s classic headshot didn’t hit the intended target. On the play, Hatcher spotted Steen skating through the neutral zone, then came in with his elbows up and left his feet in an attempt to separate him from his senses.
Although Steen did get hit, he managed to avoid the brunt of it, but Lupul, who was skating right behind him, took his teammate’s elbows right to the head. Had that hit connected on Steen, there’s a good chance the league would have been reviewing two incidents involving the Flyers.
(Of course, if the league were really interested in taking these kinds of things out of the game, Maple Leafs defenseman Pavel Kubina would have been called onto the carpet himself for his hit from behind on Flyer defenseman Braydon Coburn. As it turned out, Kubina didn’t receive even as much as a minor penalty on the play.)
After Saturday night, there can be no doubt. The next time the Flyers claim they’re “not that kind of team,” they’re not to be believed. They have players in their organization who have no respect for their opponents (Downie and Boulerice) and those who are simply reckless (Randy Jones, Scott Hartnell and now, Hatcher). They have established a pattern of behavior that cannot be denied.
Jones, Hartnell and Hatcher were not guilty of anything sinister, but their actions were utterly reckless. And it’s those kinds of acts the NHL has to start policing much better. In those cases it doesn’t matter what their intent was. What matters more is their actions, which are illegal if you read the NHL rulebook, resulted in an injury.
Only this time, it happened to one of their own.
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One of THN’s senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken's expertise delivered to you every issue.