Bucky and Brawls

It's been a while since I checked in with Bucky Gleason.  Tuesday afternoon Joe retweeted Bucky's invitation for all of us whiny apologists to read his column about the brawl…

…and the follow-up to it and being maybe THE whiny apologist, how could I resist?  Here we go:

The easy part for Brendan Shanahan came Monday, when the NHL’s chief disciplinarian handed down a 10-game suspension to David Clarkson for leaving the bench during the Sabres-Leafs melee. The rule for such an infraction is clear, the suspension automatic and severe.

Yes.  Pretty tough to screw that up.

Shanahan had a tougher call Tuesday before suspending Phil Kessel for three preseason games, essentially giving him a few days in the timeout chair. The Leafs winger turned his stick into a sickle with the intentions of cutting down a tree, namely 6-foot-8, 270-pound redwood John Scott, at the trunk.

The suspension should have applied to the regular season – I mean, it makes zero sense that Clarkson's doesn't kick in until then while Kessel's starts now – but yes, this is a good-ish suspension.

Kessel’s actions warranted punishment based on recklessness born from fear. As bad as it looked, he didn’t cause any real harm. In any given game, you’ll find three slashes that do more damage but are less obvious and aren’t penalized. Kessel showed enough wits to swing for Scott’s legs, creating the space he needed, rather than his head.

I'm not really down with the "no one got hurt" argument.  Slashes to the ankles and sticks in bellies can be pretty dangerous so whether anyone was hurt or not, these things should be discouraged.  All Kessel really had to do was keep skating in the other direction.  I certainly would not have blamed him.  But nothing here is terribly offensive.

You don’t think Shanahan went far enough with his punishment? I agree, but probably for an entirely different reason. He should have suspended Scott for starting the bloody mess when he attacked Kessel. If he doesn’t start with Kessel, Kessel doesn’t respond.

Believe it or not, I agree in theory.  I'm a dove.  In my perfect NHL there's no fighting and if there is, that guy gets tossed for a very, very long time.  In reality… well, reality is a little different.

The entire altercation – the whole thing – could have been avoided if Sabres coach Ron Rolston used a shred of common sense. He didn’t need to take Scott off the ice. He needed to make sure Scott didn’t do anything moronic on the ice. Instead, he stood there and watched the big guy initiate the shenanigans that followed.

Looking for someone to blame?

Start with Rolston and Scott before you arrive at Kessel.

The reason I agreed "in theory" above is because fighting isn't against the rules in the NHL. Neither are enforcers.  Neither is putting enforcers on the ice to settle scores except in very specific situations, situations that don't apply here at all.  Coaches and players do most of the things Rolston and Scott did.

Let me make this perfectly clear: I’m not absolving Kessel in any way, but his options were limited after Scott charged him. He couldn’t match Scott’s size, strength or brawling skills. He had no chance if he traded punches with the only man in NHL history with more than 150 games played and fewer than five career points scored.

See "all he really had to do was keep skating in the other direction" above.  Because he totally could have done that.  He's definitely faster than Scott.

It’s convenient for the Sabres and their legion of whiny apologists to grab the rulebook and claim he did little more than instigate a fight. Anyone taking an honest look could see he was the player most responsible for the line brawl that ensued. It wasn’t Leafs forward Jamie Devane or coach Randy Carlyle. And it certainly wasn’t Phil Kessel.

First of all, addressing everyone who disagrees with your opinion as "whiny apologists" is not smart nor is it, in this case, particularly true.  I saw lots of conversation about the fights, the brawl, the suspensions, and most of it – even from Sabres fans – was pretty reasoned and pragmatic.  Bucky has made it clear that "apologist" equals "anyone who disagrees with me about anything related to the Sabres" so I should stop getting upset about this, but this is so insulting.  Even if everyone who has talked to Bucky about this subject has been a whiny jerk, there's nothing wrong with responding civily.  You know, talking like an adult?  Raising the level of the conversation?

But the second point is really the important one here.  I have no problem with the suggestion that John Scott was the player most responsible for the brawl.  I also have no beef with the argument that "The Code," which Bucky goes on to complain about, is stupid.  It's SUPER stupid.  I've read an entire book about "The Code" and I still don't get it.  Debates about unwritten rules drive me bonkers.  Bucky says he's conflicted about fighting in hockey.  I am not conflicted.  I think it's really dumb and I think the fact that it's legal in a league where everyone is constantly talking about protecting players' health is irresponsible, possibly even negligent.  If I could take everything that happened the other night – the fights, the retaliation, the brawl, even the goalie fight – out of hockey, I would in a heartbeat.  I wish the John Scotts of the world were unemployable.  If all of the above happened, I think the NHL would be better off in a variety of ways.

Unfortunately, the NHL doesn't agree with me.  Whatever they say about player safety and the quality of the game, the powers that be are obviously perfectly happy with fighting and enforcers and even the occasional brawl.  If they didn't like it, they'd do something meaningful to stop it. And that's where I part from Bucky.  The league absolutely cannot suspend players and coaches for breaking rules that don't exist which is why, as much as I hate stuff like what happened in this game, Ron Rolston's fine for "inappropriate player selection" is BS.  Do you know what you get if you search the NHL rule book for "player selection"?  Nothing.  You get nothing.  Which means it's not illegal.  Which means it shouldn't be a fine-able offense.  The league making up new terms in order to levy a fine is a horrible precedent.  (And while we're talking about dumb fines, how does the team that racked up 13 games in suspensions not get included in a "team misconduct" fine?)

Along those same lines, the actions Bucky wants Scott to be suspended for are also not in the rule book.  Is it an unwritten rule that enforcers don't go after skilled guys?  Sure, it is.  The league shouldn't suspend guys for breaking unwritten rules.  If if wants things that are unwritten to be suspendable or finae-able, then write that crap down.  

Bucky, as usual, errs by making this a black and white subject, a 100% for/100% against the Sabres situation.  (I didn't even get into the line about how Rolston is just as clueless as others in the organization and how some of Bucky's response is clearly about Rolston being Darcy's guy. Bucky sure didn't write a column like this when Lindy Ruff "refused to recognize the potential for trouble" and failed to accept Bryan Murray's "obvious invitation to defuse the situation" way back when.)

Look, I hate that John Scott is taking up a roster spot.  I hate that the Sabres re-signed him.  I hate that he went after a little skilled guy because if the roles were reversed and it was my little skilled guy, I'd be irate.  I would much rather watch guys who hit hard and play hard than guys who punch hard.  But I also hate the league making up reasons to fine a coach and I hate the idea of punishing a guy for doing what the league is telling him he can do.  This is what the NHL has chosen to be for better or for worse.