The consensus among scouts is that the 12-game suspension given to Max Jones of the London Knights for his headshot in the playoffs isn’t going to move the needle one way or the other when it comes to his draft status. Most NHL teams and pundits have him going in the top of the first round, probably somewhere outside the top 10, and that’s where he’ll stay.
The Ontario League announced Friday afternoon that Jones has been suspended for 12 games for his blind-side hit on Justin Brack of the Owen Sound Attack in Game 4 of their playoff series Wednesday night. It’s an enormous, earth-shattering sentence to be sure, depriving the Knights of the kind of player who can have an enormous impact on the playoffs – a big and gritty two-way player who can contribute offense.
Say what you will about OHL commissioner David Branch – and there is no shortage of critics – but he is indeed a man of his principles when it comes to acts of violence in his league. First, he has no tolerance for them or those who are guilty of committing them. Second, it takes a certain amount of gumption to suspend a star player in his draft year and to take him away for what might amount to the rest of the playoffs from one of the league’s marquee teams. The London Knights have over the years become the New York Yankees of the OHL, attracting equal amounts of admiration and derision for their ability to procure outstanding players, generate tons of revenue and produce perennially contending teams.
“This guy is a very good hockey player and most people would recognize that since he’s projected to be a high draft choice,” Branch told thn.com. “He’s a player. But regardless, you’ve got to not grant any liberties and treat everyone the same.”
Branch and many others view the Jones hit as a deliberate and vicious headshot that could have been avoided. There will be “hockey people” who will whine and place the blame on Brack for not having his head up, but when the puck is bouncing around in your feet in your own end and you’re being forechecked, it’s always a good idea to know where the puck is so you can get it out of your zone. As Brack is playing the bouncing puck, Jones comes in from the blind side and dips down before driving his shoulder directly into Brack’s head.
It’s not a play that would earn a 12-game suspension in the NHL – heck, it might not even earn a one-game suspension in the NHL – but you have to remember that this is not the NHL. Justin Brack just turned 20. He’s played for the Attack for the past three years and there’s almost no chance we’ll ever see him playing in the NHL. For the past three years, he’s played for less than minimum wage away from his hometown and unlike Jones, almost certainly has no lucrative payday coming to him from hockey. He’s a kid who will have to get on with his life, a task that will be that much more difficult if he has a serious head injury.
Jones, on the other hand, will still get drafted in the first round and at the very least, even is he’s a complete bust at the NHL level, will sign a lucrative entry-level contract that will pay him a minimum of $92,500 for each of three years in signing bonus money alone. If he plays in the NHL, he’ll receive $832,500 a year.
And the fact that Jones will have to sit out 12 games at the most important time of the year will not have a bearing on where he gets drafted. The scouts who are interested in taking him have seen him dozens of times this season and have detailed scouting reports on him. Prominent in those reports is that Jones is a player who plays on the edge, sometimes spilling over to the other side of it and costing his team by taking a bad penalty or, in this case, a crippling one. That’s part of his makeup as a player and that’s part of what makes him effective.
Or as one NHL scout put it: “It’s still a game that men have to play.”
Except when it’s played by boys, or boy-men at the very least. Branch sees it as his duty to protect his league’s players – something that doesn’t always seem to be in the mission statement of the NHL’s department of player safety – and also unlike the NHL, there is a consistency to his decisions. As harsh as they often are, there should be no surprise when they come down.
“We’ve remained consistent in sending out messages by way of supplementary discipline, that (headshots) won’t be tolerated,” Branch said. “And this situation, in our view, touched a lot of key points of concern.”