John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday night the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 in a meaningless pre-season tilt.
So what, right? The real fun doesn’t begin for a week and a half!
Well here’s the problem. A ridiculous, disgraceful, all out brawl in the middle of the third period took the game from so what to whoa, what the heck?
The teams were playing their second game in two nights, after the Leafs pulled out a victory in a 15 round shootout Saturday night.
I Went To A Hockey Game And A Boxing Match Broke Out
The fights included David Clarkson leaving the bench, Phil Kessel using his stick as a weapon to slash John Scott, 13 fighting majors, nine misconduct penalties, two game misconducts, two goaltender leaving the crease penalties, one match penalty to Kessel, one leaving the bench penalty to Clarkson, and just all out nastiness.
To cap off the shenanigans and make things even worse, Leafs goalie James Reimer and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller also went at it. Why not, right? Think about this for a second. Both of these men had to skate from either end of the rink and go at each other for absolutely no reason. Neither goalie was involved in the original brawl, neither goalie had anything to do with each other. They literally just fought for the sake of fighting.
Yes, you can say this is the NHL, deal with it. But, there is absolutely no reason for things to have escalated like this. Whether John Scott was looking for a fight and Phil Kessel was in the wrong place at the wrong time, is completely irrelevant. The main issue here is that it happened, and now the NHL has a mess on its hands.
Can a sport in this position, which has tried everything under the sun to attract viewers (FoxTrax ring a bell?), afford to be known for such silliness? Probably not. If you want your sport to be known for its on ice excitement, for the great game play, for the Sidney Crosby‘s, the John Tavares‘s and the Steven Stamkos‘s, then this is not the way to do it.
The Numbers Are What The Numbers Are
The NHL is 4th of the 4 major sports. It trails the others, which do not include college football or college basketball, by a wide margin. The Stanley Cup Finals had fewer viewers than last week’s U-Conn vs Michigan college football game. To put that in perspective, very few people think football when they think of U-Conn. Yet, it still out performed the finals of a very exciting playoff season in the NHL.
The NHL needs to develop a no tolerance policy for this kind of garbage. Giving Kessel a 5 game suspension or less, and David Clarkson no more than the mandatory 10 would be a huge mistake. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s Czar of discipline, needs to make sure the goalies don’t get away with their childish behavior either. If they don’t make an example out of these guys now, during a pre-season game, what’s stopping this from happening again? What’s stopping someone from getting seriously injured from this kind of foolishness, or even worse, being killed?
Johnny Roseboro was once bashed in the side of the head with a bat by Juan Marichal during a fight in a Major League Baseball game. If the NHL ever wants to be among the most popular sports in America, it needs to make sure a similar incident is not repeated in a hockey game again. They need to come down hard on these players and make sure this kind of thing is never repeated or tolerated.
*EDITORS NOTE : To follow up on Eric’s point above, Clarkson was given the mandatory 10 games and Kessel will have a phone hearing, meaning he can get no more than 5 games.