The NHL is, in some respects, a strange league.
Where other professional sports leagues go to great lengths to promote their most talented players, the NHL takes a different approach. When you consider their actions and their culture, hockey’s top league wants its best athletes to curb their talents and play more like the less-talented worker bees.
An example of this backward mentality came Friday night, when the Arizona Coyotes took on the Anaheim Ducks; the Ducks had the game in hand, leading the Coyotes 5-0 with 5:37 left in the third period, when Arizona forward Jay Beagle decided to assault Ducks youngster Troy Terry. And the Coyotes announce team decided to justify Beagle’s actions:
This is about an approach to the game that has hundreds, if not thousands, of proponents. This is about an unspoken policy that flies in the face of sportsmanship and proper marketing. This is about a culture that needs to change.
For one thing, if you agree with the NHL’s department of player safety and believe Beagle’s hyper-aggression does not warrant NHL supplemental discipline, when Leafs star center Auston Matthews (rightfully) deserved his two-game suspension for a recent cross-check that was far less damaging than Beagle’s assault, you are wrong. There is no justification for what Beagle did. It is outrageous Matthews gets punished, while Beagle gets off without a scratch.
Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins and his players also knew how rotten Beagle’s actions were. Eakins called Beagle “a coward”, while forward Trevor Zegras said “I think it’s a bad look for the league…For the player who did it, it’s humiliating and I think he should be (expletive) punished.”
Both Eakins and Zegras are correct, and the fact there will be no supplemental discipline for Beagle means frontier justice is coming to the Coyotes when they play Anaheim again; that won’t happen until next season, but hockey players have long memories, and someone on the Coyotes will have to pay a price next year, simply because the league has abandoned the Ducks when it comes to providing a safe workplace.
In the NBA, you don’t see LeBron James being taken out at the knee after a spectacular dunk. In the NFL, you never see Tom Brady blindsided and beaten after making a superb pass for a touchdown. Those leagues understand what sells - not the repression of talent, but the promotion and protection of talent. Fans aren’t coming out to see Jay Beagle mug someone, and the league sure doesn’t promote vicious outbursts like Beagle’s. Yet this type of behavior continues over the years, tacitly accepted by hockey’s gatekeepers given there’s no supplemental discipline to send a message to all NHLers that this is unacceptable behavior.
In hockey, as in all sports, the purpose of playing is to play as well as possible. If another team isn’t playing as well as their opponent, it is not within their rights to injure their opponent. Beagle could’ve gone after anyone, and he’d be just as wrong as he is for attacking Terry.
But the NHL had a chance to make it known to everyone that the bar is for player protection, and they chose to say and do nothing. In addition, the players’ union also deserves criticism here; it’s true they represent both Beagle and Terry, but they too have the power to effect change. Their silence here only enables players in the future to act this way and expect no punishment.
Someday, an incident like this is going to seriously harm an NHLer, to the point they won’t be able to play again. Hell, it already has happened. Does anyone remember Steve Moore anymore? We should. Moore’s saga was a travesty and a lesson we all should have learned.
Beagle’s attack proves the league has learned nothing. This is going to happen again because clearly, the NHL wants it to. Frontier justice has no place in hockey, and it’s up the power brokers of the sport to wisen up and make a positive step forward.