NHL hits and misses laid out for all to see in Kaleta caper, nasty Hab(its), ice station zebras
Patrick Kaleta #36 of the Buffalo Sabres gets a penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct as he hits Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers into the boards at Madison Square Garden on March 3, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Sabres 3-2 in the shootout.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
VANCOUVER — Patrick Kaleta ought to be locked up. Brendan Shanahan has gone soft on crime. The Montreal Canadiens are all divers. National Hockey League referees are rabbit-eared politicians.
It is Monday as we write this, and there is so much umbrage in the air, it makes us want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our heads. Except that, you know, it’s almost all justified.
Reading from left to right:
• Kaleta, the 26-year-old Buffalo Sabres winger, is building the kind of resume that would bring a flush of pride to the cheeks of Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres, whose co-authored Villainy 101 course Kaleta took by correspondence, and evidently passed with flying colours.
He hasn’t taken the 200-level follow-up course yet — Image Management: how to morph from notorious headhunter to one who has seen the light, found God, repented, and in all other ways become a model citizen — but perhaps it got stuck in the mail.
Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Kaleta launched New York Rangers’ Brad Richards head-first four or five feet into the boards with a cross-check applied a few inches below the number 19 that directly faced him.
There was nothing else to see but those numbers. There could be no claim of anything but a purposeful hit from behind. There was no time for Richards to brace himself. All the Ranger forward could do in the split-second afforded him before his helmet struck the boards was turn his head slightly, which may have saved him from a broken neck.
But he got up, eventually, and soon returned to play, so that’s all right then. Five and a game. Carry on.
Kaleta’s rap sheet, previous suspensions for dangerous hits, head-butting and what-have-you, and the fact that he went after a (theoretically, not this year) star player were not deemed sufficient to warrant more than a phone hearing with the league, meaning that a repeat offender whose last suspension was a four-gamer, cannot be dinged for more than five this time.
That will really change behaviour.
• Sheriff Shanny, what are you thinking?
Has the new collective bargaining agreement, in which the players association won the right to appeal any suspension longer than six games, made you gun-shy?
Just do it, just exercise the conscience the players appear to lack, and ignore the politics. Why does the Department of Player Safety seem to be so unwilling, or unable, to lead the movement for the safety of players?
You could give Kaleta 10 games, and put the onus on the NHLPA to come to the hearing and argue that a dangerous player delivering a dangerous hit does not deserve to be banished for a good long time. At least then, we’d find out whether the NHLPA even cares about safety.
Are you seriously going to suspend according to the injury, and not the act, just because Richards didn’t stay down, didn’t miss the rest of the game? Knowing the time it can take for a concussion to manifest itself, were you really comfortable that you knew all there was to know about Richards’s head by the middle of Monday afternoon?
And while we’re at it, Rangers medical staff: was 50 seconds of game clock time, the total amount Richards missed before returning, really enough to pronounce him OK after a collision with the boards that made even the leather-lunged hard cases in the MSG seats gasp?
• Is Boston coach Claude Julien right? Are the Habs the biggest collection of divers and embellishers in the NHL? (Memo to Beantown bloggers: does this mean the Vancouver Canucks are off the hook?)
Is it an affront to all that’s right and good in this world that the Bruins are the third-most penalized team in the NHL, and that the Canadiens have had 100 power play chances this season, while Boston has had just 61?
Or does Boston’s penalty total go with the territory of being Big Bad Bruins? Kind of like the enduring Broad Street Bullies tag that clings to the reliably rugged Philadelphia Flyers, who lead the league in penalty minutes per game. Or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were never considered very hard to play against until they went out and acquired a series of heavyweight brawlers, and now are No. 2 in the NHL in average time served.
Or is Julien whistling in the dark? He might be. Because No. 4 on the average penalty minutes ranking is ... Montreal.
• There is, however, a maddening inconsistency in the methods employed by NHL zebras, and that probably accounts for most of the gripes of wrath expressed by coaches, including Julien and Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, who received a bench minor for verbally abusing referee Kelly Sutherland in Calgary on Sunday over a missed elbowing call. The Flames’ Jarome Iginla scored the game-winning goal just as the penalty was expiring.
Vigneault was beside himself, said that the referee ought to be accountable for a patently ridiculous penalty, and swore (no pun intended) that he didn’t use a single obscenity in addressing Sutherland from atop the bench.
“Not one goddamn word. Nothing. I didn't use the f-word. I stood on the bench for .5 seconds and I said, 'That's an elbow.' And that's how I got two minutes and that's how they scored the goal. I'm done here.” And he stormed off, without otherwise addressing the evening’s events, which ought to have included a discussion of why the Canucks were in position to lose to a Northwest Division 98-pound weakling in the first place.
In Vigneault’s defence, he’s got a winger, Alex Burrows — probably the Canucks’ best all-around player — who has been pretty badly roughed up by officials who haven’t forgotten their grudge against him for squealing on referee Stephane Auger in 2010. The penalties he receives, and the ones opposing players don’t get for fouls against him, are completely at odds with the kind of player he has become, but the memories persist of the guy whose head-snapping, diving, finger-biting past have put a “Kick Me” sign on his backside, apparently for life.
Canuck followers are also still shaking their heads at the embellishment/diving call against Daniel Sedin that negated what would have been a power play in a game the Canucks trailed 2-1 (and would lose 4-2) to Phoenix last week.
This is the same Sedin (not the other one), who famously took a flurry of five punches in the face from Boston’s Brad Marchand in the 2011 Stanley Cup final without going down — if he had, one of the refs might have called a penalty, but instead both looked the other way. Evidently, he was supposed to remain standing after being slashed across the legs by Coyotes’ Michael Stone, who rightly was penalized on the play.
Daniel Sedin is no one’s idea of a diver. So the purpose of the call was to discourage ... what, exactly?
Referees, they tell us, are only human. Some nights, it’s hard to take their word for it.
End of rant. As you were.
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