So there we were again Tuesday, running out the two-hopper to shortstop that is the futile effort of breaking down dirty acts in hockey. Did Toronto's Phil Kessel deserve to be sat down for those wild golf swings at the skates of the Sabres' John Scott, or an ensuing spear?
Sure he did. Did you see those whacks? How do you swing that weapon at another player and not miss games?
Of course he didn't. Scott, the much bigger man, threatened to pummel him. As Kessel himself said afterward, What would you do? And it's not like he connected. No harm, no foul, right?
Don't ever -- repeat, EVER -- try to make sense of these rulings. The precedent for any outcome you desire has been set over time by the wildly erratic National Hockey League. Well, I should make that almost any desired outcome. Because the one outcome that never gets the call is the only one that matters.
The one that would keep players from repeating the act.
Isn't that supposed to be the point of punishment?
My children are ages 3 and 2. Not a day goes by where one or both of them doesn't exhibit a behavior my wife and I would like to correct. Obviously there are always lots of possible courses of action: do nothing, disown them, and lots of in-between options. The one you want -- I think -- is the one that's fair but also likeliest to prevent a repeat performance.
I've learned not to take interest in these hockey flaps. I'm a better man for it. Suspend Kessel for what in the NHL would be considered extreme -- what's that, three games? -- and there's very little chance of correcting the behavior.
So then what's the point?
These suspensions do of course render the offending player's team at a competitive disadvantage, or at least theoretically they do. But no one ever talks about that. Know why? Because there are 5 billion games in every season so big deal when someone sits for a few.
There is one exception to this, and I'm happy to point it out as an example of what hockey has done right: leaving the bench for a fight. Players know that the punishment for this (an automatic 10 games) is harsh. David Clarkson and his teammates knew instantly what lay before Clarkson once he entered the fray Sunday night. Ten games is serious enough for players on the bench, this recent example notwithstanding, to know to stay seated.
(Even 10 games isn't enough for the Maple Leafs to really suffer without Clarkson, in my humble opinion. His true value isn't measured by his lofty contract, it's by his play, and he's not an effectual enough player for whose absence Leafs fans should be too worried. Kessel, however, is valuable.)
As you've probably read, Kessel was suspended for three preseason games, which is more a reward than a punishment. (Wait, you're not LETTING me play in these practice games where I could get hurt but don't get paid? Gee, um, OK.)
Let me warn you one more time: Do not waste five minutes of your life trying to figure out what the right answer is in matters like this. The punishment never matters, and further, whatever happened to Kessel wasn't going to affect the Sabres at all.
If the NHL raised my kids there'd be spaghetti all over my walls.
I want to make one more point stemming from Sunday's mess that has nothing to do with punishment.
The Sabres were talking Monday about team-building, and the supposed value in what Scott did by entering the situation after teammate Corey Tropp apparently had been injured in a fight.
I don't want to say there is no value in any of that, as players are always so certain that there is. But while the team-buildling (or whatever) that comes from moments like that may matter, it's not close to mattering as much as the two things that determine whether you win games: GOALS and GOALS ALLOWED.
Want to promote team-building, Sabres? Hire players who can score. Guess what happens then? You win games -- by scoring more than your opponent, I'm trying to make this easy -- and then your players smell success and work that much harder, for themselves and their teammates. John Scott seems like a nice guy but I won't mind at all if he never plays for the Sabres again. I'd rather have one more player that, you know, helps them win.