Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa stands near Preds center Paul Gaustad, who had just been hit by Vancouver's Alex Burrows. (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Canucks agitator Alex Burrows was ejected from Tuesday's game against Nashville after he received a five-minute major penalty for interference and a game misconduct for a headshot hit on Preds center Paul Gaustad. It's the latest in a long line of questionable incidents from a player who needs to change his style or be left behind.
Just about every NHL media person working today will tell you it's easy and often unfair to judge players' actions from the comforts of the press box or our living rooms. We always have to bear that in mind when we're talking about supplemental discipline. The game moves faster than any sport not contested on wheels, and there are times when players will seriously injure an opponent with no malice intended.
Then there are NHLers who "just happen" to be involved with an annually-increasing number of borderline dirty incidents in the same way Jason Statham just happens to make essentially the same action movie time and again. Which brings me to Alex Burrows.
The Canucks' agitator was back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons Tuesday after this blindside hit to the head of Predators center Paul Gaustad got him a five-minute major and an ejection from Vancouver's game against Nashville:
The latest incident involving Burrows comes in the same season he was suspended three games for a late-hit headshot on Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin:
Then there was the time – almost exactly a year ago to the day, as a matter of fact – Burrows delivered a late hit on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh:
Burrows escaped punishment for that one, but you get the picture. He's a repeat offender with a well-earned reputation as someone who hasn't adapted his game to suit the league's new expectations regarding player behavior. And that's important to note here: if you speak to people in the NHL's Dept. of Player Safety, they'll offer specific examples of players who have evolved, who now pull up on opponents when they once would lay into them with everything in their power. Unfortunately, there are still a small group of players who haven't learned that lesson and play a reckless style simply because they've been permitted to.
And in a league where teams have phased out the single-purpose enforcer, it's imperative the next target to go on the endangered species list is the reckless player. Burrows falls into that category, as does Chicago's Dan Carcillo and Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo, Pittsburgh's Max Lapierre and Boston's Brad Marchand. If the NHL is telling players they don't want them to settle matters on the ice, everyone involved in the process – and that includes team owners, the board of governors and the NHLPA – has to make a genuine commitment to continue demanding improved sportsmanship standards right on down the line.
If you're still not convinced about Burrows' continual disregard for his opponents' well-being, here's another of his "highlights". It's from January 2011, when he introduced his stick between the legs of Rangers blueliner Marc Staal and lifted up in a very painful and intentional manner:
And here's Burrows biting the finger of Boston's Patrice Bergeron (not his first biting incident, as analyst Keith Jones notes) in Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final:
Again, all this stuff must be a coincidence, right?
There will be Canucks fans who squawk about anything to distract from the multiple offenses Burrows has to his name – "Why don't you talk about Dustin Byfuglien's cross-check!" (I did.); "Why don't you talk about Rinaldo!" (I did.) – but the evidence of his recklessness is abundant.
Nobody's saying Burrows can't still find ways to be an agitator, but they no longer can involve late hits and blows to the head. It's really that simple. The rest of the league is doing much better at adapting to that directive than he's doing, and if he just can't figure it out, the game needs to leave him behind with the other relics of a bygone era.