Time For Shanahan To Use His Imagination
So the fallout from Sunday night's pointless brawling gets interesting on Tuesday morning.
Nobody, but nobody, objected to David Clarkson getting 10 games on Monday. It was automatic for leaving the bench to join a fight. Nothing could really be said. He did it, and both he and the Leaf organization will paid a hefty price for that poor decision.
Clarkson has to realize he's not in Jersey any more. He's a prominent, highly paid player on a Leaf team striving to find consistent competitiveness, and he has to behave accordingly in the future. Even if his motives were good, he hurt his team by trying to help a teammate, pure and simple. Not only is he gone for 10, he's put the Leafs into an even tighter salary cap bind.
The Phil Kessel hearing on Tuesday, however, is a horse of a different colour.
There's certainly a case to be made for a suspension, although it should be noted that if chopping at an opponent's ankles with one's stick was a suspendable offence, Chris Pronger might never have played an NHL game. This wasn't even close to a truly ugly stick-swinging incident if you know anything about NHL history.
That said, you don't want players doing that to each other. Certainly, after the opening few chops on Scott, Kessel made his offence worse by later going past Scott and giving him another poke.
But the question NHL hanging judge Brendan Shanahan needs to ask himself is whether justice will be done if Kessel is suspended and the Buffalo Sabres don't receive any sanctions at all, not even a token fine.
If Shanahan chooses that option, he will be in effect opening the door to a strategy in which enforcers can jump star players on opposing teams without the league coming down hard on them. The league should protect its marquee players, although it seldom makes that a priority and instead allows the Patrick Kaletas of the world to run wild. You can say Kessel did wrong, but you better have a explanation as to how he should have handled a 6-foot-8 goon who had already dropped his gloves.
You can argue the goon in question, John Scott, did nothing overly wrong under the rules of the game, other than breaking them and getting a penalty. But in combination with Buffalo coach Ron Rolston, Scott instigated the entire affair by doing what most NHL people would argue is completely against the culture and spirit of the game, and that's menacing a skill player who had done absolutely nothing to provoke Scott.
Is there a specific rule Shanahan can point to as a means of taking some action against the Sabres? Maybe, maybe not. But he may want to come up with something, or at least excuse Kessel's behavior as a warning to enforcers that they won't gain his protection if they choose to step outside certain understood parameters. Lord knows, the department of player safety has engineered its own idiosyncratic rationales before. That's the beauty of the job. You make it up as you go along.
If Shanahan doesn't look to a bigger picture here and use his imagination with what comes next, he'll be opening a door that won't be easy to shut.