Aaron Ward of the Bruins gets punched by Scott Walker of the Hurricanes during Game 5. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
You know, you’re always learning something when it comes to discipline in the NHL. Just about every ruling – or non-ruling – that comes down teaches us something most of us didn’t know before.
First, let’s review what we knew before the NHL decided to not suspend Scott Walker of the Carolina Hurricanes for his “non-sucker punch” on Aaron Ward of the Boston Bruins.
Well, we knew there is a mind-boggling culture of violence in the NHL. We knew that those who play the game feel they have to take justice in their own hands because they have no confidence the league will do it. We knew the NHL Players’ Association refuses to take a stand against their own players being hurt and we knew, for the most part, justice in the NHL is a complete joke.
But what we have learned is that it is now acceptable to throw your gloves off and drill an unsuspecting player in the face. And the best part of it is, you’ll only be suspended 0.1 percent of your salary.
That is, in effect, what the NHL decreed when it decided to rescind Walker’s one-game “automatic” suspension, but fine him $2,500 for possibly breaking Ward’s orbital bone in one of the most one-sided fights you’ll ever see. Walker makes $2.5 million a season, so you’d have to think that being fined one-tenth of one percent of his salary isn’t going to keep him tossing and turning at night.
“I accept the league’s decision,” Walker said in a statement released by the Hurricanes on Monday. Boy, that’s rich. Of course he accepts the league’s decision because he knows that if he played in any other league in the world he’d be looking at a 10-game suspension.
But the NHL is not any other league. There is so much wrong, so much that is so ridiculous about this ruling that it’s difficult to figure out where to start.
But we’ll give it shot. First of all, what Walker did mandated an automatic one-game suspension pending a league review. Usually that means the player is suspended for at least one game and the review determines whether or not the suspension will be longer than that.
So what happened to the “automatic” one-game suspension, then? If you can overturn what is supposed to be an automatic suspension on a whim, then what exactly is so automatic about it?
Then there’s the curious decision to not suspend Walker, but to fine him $2,500. For what, exactly? If the league ruled it was not a sucker punch and, effectively, saw the incident as a garden-variety fight, then why did they decide to fine Walker? If he did nothing wrong in the eyes of the league, then he should appeal the fine as well. Either give him what he deserves in the form of a suspension or don’t give him anything at all.
Kind of makes you wonder exactly what a guy has to do to get suspended. Of course, we’ve always wondered that because the system of NHL justice is so skewed you have no idea what’s going to happen when they get their hands on a file.
But this much we know. When the Boston Bruins play the Carolina Hurricanes next season in a nothing game in the middle of January, Ward or any of his teammates will be able to simply skate up to Walker and somehow give themselves the impression they’re going to fight, then simply drop their gloves and drill Walker in the head.
Better yet, any player can do that to another player now, even a fourth-liner on Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. After all, the precedent has been set.
Of course, the fighting apologists would have you believe that you have to have played the game at a significant level to realize that Ward had it coming to him, or at least that he should have realized he was in a fight and dropped his gloves and defended himself like a real man would.
They’re the same people who think that a player who is stupid enough to watch where his pass is going or glances down to check whether the puck is still on his stick deserves to take a violent shot to the head as well.
And so it goes. The same league that purports to be so concerned about blows to the head have proved once again it has no problem with those blows when they occur in incidents the league deems to be legitimate fights. We’ll probably never know whether Ward had any intention of fighting Walker, but we do know that he didn’t have any time to throw his gloves off before having his head punched in.
Host Edward Fraser sits down with senior writer Ken Campbell and blogger Rory Boylen to for a heated discussion about league’s choice to fine, but not suspend Scott Walker.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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