When the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announces its sanction against Calgary Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk for drilling his elbow into the head of the defending Norris Trophy winner and one of the top players in the NHL, Drew Doughty, you can probably expect something in the neighborhood of two games.
That’s because that is what Jason Demers got early last season for an almost identical elbow to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bonino when Demers was playing for the Dallas Stars. And in the National House League, nobody can be seen as being treated differently. Never mind that we know that much more about head trauma now than we did 17 months ago – it will likely be two games because Tkachuk is a first offender.
But here’s the thing. Anyone who has been a parent will tell you that the perfect recipe for raising an entitled punk is to allow the little guy to run rampant in the early years with impunity. So what Tkachuk will have received for his deed is the life equivalent of a timeout in the corner. How is Tkachuk going to learn that there are consequences to his actions if he knows the punishments are so light?
Which is exactly why being a first-time offender, particularly for young players, should be the reason to impose longer suspensions, not shorter ones. Nothing is going to change unless young players learn early in their careers that reckless use of the stick and the body are not going to be tolerated. So instead of only suspending serial miscreants such as Raffi Torres 41 games at the end of their careers, why not throw the book at the Matthew Tkachuks of the world for say, 10 to 15 games? (One would argue that in any other league, or the real world, a suspension that long would be appropriate anyway, but we’re talking about baby steps here.)
What’s more, is a slap-on-the-wrist suspension will do absolutely nothing for anyone, short of inspiring the Los Angeles Kings to take matters into their own hands and seek justice on their own. The Flames and Kings play two more times this season – March 29 in Calgary and April 6 in Los Angeles – and if you think the Kings won’t have revenge on their minds in those two games, you clearly didn’t watch the Winnipeg Jets and the Pittsburgh Penguins recently. When the NHL says it sells hate, this is exactly what it’s talking about.
Chances are, Tkachuk doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about, seeing as he’s a pretty big kid who’s capable of taking care of himself. But if I’m Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan, I’m a little nervous the next time I step on the ice against one of the biggest teams in the league. By the time those two teams meet, the Kings could very well be out of the playoff picture entirely and might not have a lot to play for when it comes to the standings.
The Kings have a 22-year-old kid in their system named Kurtis MacDermid. He’s 6-foot-5 and 208 pounds and is fourth in the AHL in penalty minutes this season. In fewer than two seasons in the AHL, he’s been in 17 fights. If you’re out of the playoffs and looking to exact revenge, hey, what’s the harm in having the kid come up for a little look-see?
Regardless of what happens, we’ll likely see someone on the Kings take a run at a player such as Gaudreau or Monahan and the usual mayhem will ensue. It’s almost as though the NHL hasn’t learned a thing about handling vengeance from the Todd Bertuzzi incident.
The only thing preventing the NHL from keeping a lid on this sort of thing is its own system of justice. There is the prevailing thought that players have to sort these things out themselves and sometimes it’s very difficult to argue with that train of thought. If the players’ own employers aren’t going to step in and deter these things from happening, don’t be surprised if the players do it themselves.
And don’t be surprised if the players who are involved learn almost nothing from it and don’t change their ways. Because the league doesn’t give them any reason to do so.
Carry on, then.