A Good Play Gone Bad
Unless you want to change the rules, there's not much that could have been changed about the hit on Mike Van Ryn on Saturday night.
Van Ryn was doing his job, trying to make the toughest, most courageous play in the game, which is hustling back to get the puck in your own zone knowing you're going to get drilled into the end boards.
Don't tell me about the "tough guys" of the games, the guys who scrap. Tell me about the Van Ryns who make that play night after night. Those are the tough guys. Those are the players you need more of to make a tough hockey team.
So Van Ryn was making the right play. So too was Tom Kostopoulos, a 29-year-old winger from Mississauga who isn't in the league to be fancy and score but to skate hard, finish his check and be a grinding forward.
His job was to try to force Van Ryn to turn over the puck, and then create an offensive chance for his team by either motivating Van Ryn not to make the right play or by taking him heavily into the end boards. The one option he doesn't have if he wants to continue making $900,000 a season in the NHL as a semi-skilled laborer is to pull up and not hit Van Ryn.
So you had two veteran NHLers trying to do the right thing. At the last moment, Van Ryn spun back, again trying to make the right play by playing the puck but avoiding the hit. Kostopoulos continued with the hit, and the result was serious injury to the Leaf defenceman and a major and game misconduct for the Montreal forward.
No intent to injure. Just a good play gone bad.
So no, Kostopoulos doesn't deserve a suspension, although the nature of the hit mandated his expulsion from the match. He probably will get at least one game off, however, for making that play in a nationally televised Montreal-Toronto game with the entire hockey world watching. If it happens in Nashville in a game between the Predators and Blue Jackets, we probably never hear about it.
But he doesn't deserve a suspension.
Now if you want to change the rules, that's another thing. If you want to go to no-touch icing, or let the goalies play the puck anywhere they want again, or outlaw hitting within five feet of the end boards, then you might avoid that kind of play in the future.
Otherwise, it's going to happen in this sport of high-speed, violent collisions. But this wasn't dirty. This wasn't Cam Janssen hitting Tomas Kaberle five Mississippis after the puck was gone or repeat offender Ryan Hollweg hammering an opponent from behind for the zillionth time.
But others will differ, and some will suggest the play never would have happened if the Leafs had a goon in their lineup. Those people you'll never convince of anything, and the presence of Georges Laraque didn't stop the Leafs from steamrolling Carey Price on three separate occasions on Saturday night.
The unfortunate thing for Van Ryn is that after missing time last year with wrist problems, his game was coming to together nicely in Toronto, and then this happens. Game's just not fair sometimes.