Code in Chaos
In the infamous words of Strother Martin, what we have here is failure to communicate.
As absolutely confused as I was in the wake of the Chris Neil non-suspension, Cam Janssen suspension and Chris Simon mega-suspension as to how and why NHL justice is dispensed, the five-game ban handed down to Nashville forward Jordin Tootoo just adds to the mystification.
That's not to defend Tootoo. What he did was not hockey.
But the problem is if Tootoo has been paying attention to NHL decision makers this season, he could be forgiven if he was under the distinct impression that what he did was part of hockey.
Or at least that he was conducting himself appropriately under the overall philosophy under which the league operates.
Don't forget, in January NHL general managers told the hockey world that they believed that an important element of their sport was the ability of certain players to exact their own form of justice on the ice if they believed their talented teammates were being unduly abused by opposition players.
In order to let the league's enforcers "do their job," the GMs recommended that the number of times such players could initiate fights and incur an instigator penalty before suspension should be raised to five games from three.
In other words, the GMs were saying if star players are being abused, or allegedly abused, we want other players to have the opportunity to start fights as a method to halt that abuse.
We won't quibble with the logic for the moment. But that's basically the message the GMs sent out.
So when Tootoo hit Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars with a legal check, he knew that the league had reinforced the concept that other Dallas players could seek retribution on the ice right then and there.
So he got himself ready.
And when poor old Stephane Robidas arrived, Tootoo delivered a knockout blow with one punch.
Robidas came to initiate a fight with the tactic encouragement of the league that such a move was the proper way to respond, and Tootoo beat him to the punch.
So he gets a five-game suspension?
More than Neil? More than Janssen?
As far as I can follow the idiotic "code," Tootoo followed it to the letter.
He hit a star player. He knew he would have to answer the bell for doing so, and he was more than ready and willing to scrap.
According to league discipline master Colin Campbell, Tootoo's haymaker was "an overly aggressive and inappropriate response."
It wasn't that he delivered a punch. Just too good of a punch.
To which Nashville's GM David Poile told The Tennessean, "It's a confusing situation to me to exactly what is right or wrong."
The NHL constantly tells the sports world that fighting is part of the game, that punching another player in the head as part of an altercation is an important element in the sport.
It also says that players must have some ability to protect their teammates.
Look, I think what Tootoo did was reprehensible and has no place in the sport.
But under the rules of engagement as laid down by the NHL, I find it completely illogical to point the finger at him for somehow stepping beyond the bounds of the game.
But then, this really isn't about logic, is it?
Nor is it really about hockey.