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Domi's ‘gutless’ sucker punch draws first Player Safety hearing of the season

Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi is likely to be handed down the first suspension of the season from the NHL's Department of Player Safety after a senseless sucker punch to Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Max Domi sure knows how to make a first impression. The only problem is that the impression Domi made in his pre-season debut with the Montreal Canadiens is the kind that is going to cost him a few games.

After Wednesday’s pre-season contest between the Canadiens and Panthers, Domi became the first player to get called before the NHL’s Department of Player Safety this season, and it seems very likely that league disciplinarians are going to ensure that the 23-year-old misses some time following a senseless sucker punch delivered square to the face of Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Domi’s transgression came early in the third period of the exhibition tilt after Ekblad got his stick in on the Canadiens center’s hands, broke up a play and turned the puck up ice. With play heading the other way, Domi attempted to engage Ekblad, delivering a few gloved jabs to his chin in attempt to persuade the defenseman into dropping the gloves. Ekblad wouldn’t bite, though, and as he looked off towards the approaching referees, Domi dropped his right glove and delivered a punch to Ekblad’s face, sending the blueliner crashing to the ice.

Linesmen pulled Domi off of a downed Ekblad almost immediately after the punch was thrown, but the damage had been done. Bloodied, enough to soak the collar of his jersey, Ekblad left the ice and didn’t return to the game.

"It was a bit of a gutless play,” Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo said following the game. “You don’t do those kinds of things. I’m sure the league will look at it. We definitely won't forget about it…You respect your opponents, and if your opponent doesn't want to engage in a fight, there’s no reason to drop your glove and punch him square in the face for no reason.”

For his transgressions, Domi was handed a minor for roughing and a match penalty that ended his night early in the third. His penance won’t, nor should it, end there, though. Shortly after the contest concluded, the Department of Player Safety announced that Domi would have a hearing on Thursday, adding that, “the following grounds are being considered for supplemental discipline: roughing and punch to an unsuspecting opponent. However, the Department of Player Safety retains the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review.”

In the wake of Domi’s punch, and in the replies to the Department of Player Safety’s announcement via Twitter, there’s a vocal crowd who have laughed off the idea that Ekblad was an “unsuspecting” player. He should have known it was coming from the jabs, they said. They asked what Ekblad could have possibly thought was about to happen. And some even blamed Ekblad for not putting his hands up to defend himself. To which the answers are no, he shouldn’t have; that he thought he was about to draw a minor on Domi and skate away having given his team a power play; and that he shouldn’t have to defend himself from a sucker punch in a meaningless game, let alone a meaningful one, if he doesn’t want to drop the gloves in the first place.

The latter point is the most important, too. There’s nothing Ekblad could have gained from dropping the gloves with Domi. And for a player as important to the Panthers’ lineup as Ekblad, and one with a concussion history that is frighteningly long given how early it is in his career, he had and has more than every right to keep his hands at his side and let the moment pass. Already, Ekblad has suffered three diagnosed concussions — one ahead of the 2014 World Junior Championship, one in January 2016 and one in March 2017, not to mention a possible fourth during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey — and the risks associated with fighting at this point in his career far outweigh any conceivable benefit for a player whose spot is 100-percent secure in the lineup and on the depth chart.

Quite frankly, Domi had nothing to gain from fighting, either. Imagine if Domi had broken his hand? The Canadiens would be without a player who’s projected to be a top-six center to start the season due to his own hotheadedness. Or what would have happened if Ekblad — who, in Tale of the Tape terms, has the decided reach, height and likely power advantage — had caved to Domi’s cajoling and connected with a few blows? That could have resulted in Domi suffering a concussion or broken bones as the result of a pointless fight in a game that’s worth absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Luckily, Ekblad came away from the incident relatively unscathed. He was held out of the game for the remainder of the third period, and coach Bob Boughner said post-game that Ekblad hadn’t suffered a concussion. As for Domi, the damage from the fight will come in the form of a ban.

After his hearing is completed Thursday afternoon, it seems most likely that Domi will be handed down a suspension that eats up most, if not all, of the Canadiens’ remaining pre-season contests. That said, it would be commendable if the league were to add a regular season game in there, too, and extend the punishment to a time when the games actually matter. But it seems more likely that Domi, who isn’t a repeat offender, will be able to suit up when the Canadiens open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs.



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