We should have known this would be the result last night, honestly. While some were 100% right when they said there would be no suspension, it was easy to write them off as a) overly cynical Canucks fans or b) Leafs supporters. This one looked like a no-brainer. From the distance traveled to make the hit, the trajectory, contact with the head (to the extent that it popped his helmet off), and clearly leaving his feet, this one should have been the kind of slam dunk that the NHL Department of Player Safety couldn't possibly get wrong.
There were other incidents last night, all worthy of some sort of discipline. It started with Rielly's borderline late hit on Jannik Hansen (and how was Kadri's hit charging but this one wasn't?)
Let's talk about this hit for a moment. Of everything that went down last night, this is the one I have the most trouble with. Why, in a game where the Leafs are up by 3 goals, is Morgan Rielly throwing this hit against this player at this time? There was nothing in the game to that point that would necessitate taking that kind of a run at a guy. And I don't think enough is being made about this: the on-ice officials didn't even call a 2 minute penalty on this hit.
And then we move up the ice, to where Nazem Kadri takes his run at Daniel Sedin.
i am so late on this though, I am sure there is plenty of video out there by now. pic.twitter.com/nAZNlJFA5r— Stephanie (@myregularface) November 6, 2016
So my question is much like the one concerning Rielly's hit: Why is this hit happening now, at this moment in the game? There's no tension building up to it, and yet we have two vicious hits on the same shift? That's a pretty interesting coincidence.
Then we have Derek Dorsett being challenged by Matt Martin. Should Dorsett take him up on this? Seems to me like this was some raw meat for the crowd more than anything else, but Dorsett's probably better off taking his lumps here than instigating something with Leo Komarov. Now some Leafs fans cry foul over this, as Komarov is not a fighter. What he is though is an instigating type pest similar to an Alex Burrows (shut up, I am comparing style not actions), and a similar height and weight to Dorsett. The game officials gave Dorsett the instigator and I am fine with that.
Then, we have Burrows going after Rielly. Here's where the problem is: If Reilly is given the penalty that the hit deserves, he's not out there on the ice for this to happen. I know you're probably saying to yourself "But Kent, are you suggesting that the on-ice officials contributed to the situation with their non-call?" Yes. Yes I am. And not calling Burrows for the spear (and god how I HATE that Burrows did this, because the other thing I am tired of is defending the team because of his shittiness to other players on the ice), simply poured gas on that fire. So then you get those two fighting, and Burrows is taken out of the game through the fighting and 10 minute misconduct. But he should have already been gone for the spear.
Then we get to Matt Martin. He's obviously angered by the fact that Derek Dorsett wouldn't fight him, and sees this as a reason to somehow go out and take his anger out on a Canuck that is not a fighter, much like Dorsett did with Komarov. One problem. He chose rookie Troy Stecher, who at 5'10" and 190 lbs (and that's being generous) is a far cry from the 6'3" and 200lb Martin. Remember the outcry just the other night when Ryan Kesler targeted Arizona rookie Jakob Chychrun (before Max Domi sat him down)? No difference here at all, and the height and weight disadvantage makes it even more despicable. Thankfully, Ryan Miller jumped in (literally) and tied up Martin to keep things from getting out of control.
So, the smoke clears and we have quite a mess for the DoPS to take a look at. Twitter isn't just full of fans arguing the case at this point, though. There are Leafs journalists using very specific interpretations of the rule in question, and that should have been the first indication that this was going to be a very disappointing outcome.
Following the game, we have Toronto coach Mike Babcock saying this to the media:
And this is why we have a Chapter 3 of what shouldn't have had to become a series here. How can the NHL look at this, a coach saying this, where it sounds quite literally like a mafia boss telling everyone to 'fuggetaboutit' because he has the cops in his pocket and not be losing their damn minds? The optics are once again the issue. Is that what he was saying. Common sense tells us no, yet the NHL constantly plants these seeds of doubt through their actions.
And as shocking as it was to hear that, it was far from the worst thing uttered last night.
What. The. Fuck. I cannot tell you how much this made my stomach churn. The last thing we need is for another situation to boil out of control like we saw when Todd Bertuzzi attacked Steve Moore. Yet all of the warning signs are there: Cheap shot on star player unpunished? Check. Vow of retribution publicly uttered? Check. The NHL gets out it's fiddle as the flames begin to lick around their toes? Check. They missed so many opportunities here to suspend players, and rightfully so for actions that have no place in the game. And now, by not doing anything about Erik Gudbranson's stupid comments, it sets a ball rolling that cannot be stopped if history tells us anything. They'll put on a big show of warning the teams of consequences should anything go awry Dec 3rd, but the time to try and prevent that is NOW, not hours before the puck drops. It was one of the most disgraceful incidents in NHL history, and yet it appears that the league has learned absolutely nothing from it, kind of like the way guys like Kadri and Burrows continue to do stupid things: The punishment is no deterrent whatsoever.
*Edited to remove a sentence that wasn't properly deleted in the draft process.