Everyone has an opinion on the Leaf-Sabre brawl from this past Sunday evening. I stated some of my views in an earlier post, so I won’t go over all that again. Today I’ll just focus briefly on the “Kessel” question—as in, did he respond appropriately and all that.
I mostly want to hear from you today. (I’d really rather talk hockey, if you know what I mean, but other than saying I like what I’m seeing from Reimer, I feel we are all pretty much in a holding pattern until Sunday/Monday when we find out the “final” roster for opening night on October 1. So I’ll save my ‘eve of season’ assessment for then.) First, though Iet me just make a few points about ‘L’Affaire Kessel’ and then you can take it away….
- I think both the Sabres and Leafs share blame for what happened. (Hey, maybe some fans loved it and thought it was all great. It’s a free country, thankfully, so everyone has a right to their views on something like senseless fighting in hockey I like tough hockey—but not that. For me, that’s roller derby stuff, not hockey.)
- Devane went way further than he had to with Tropp. So the Sabres responded—in a debatable fashion, but if it was the other way around, would Leaf fans be complaining about our own players? Maybe some would, but I sense a lot of Leaf supporters let their emotions overcome objectivity and measured reasoning.
- In any event I hardly expect Kessel to fight with Scott. In fact, we may wonder why he was even on the ice (as many have noted) in the first place after the Devane/Tropp incident. Carlyle thought this would defuse the situation?
- That said, in human terms I can almost understand Kessel swinging his stick toward Scott when the festivities began; however, it was gutless to do it again when Scott was being pummelled by a couple of Leafs. (Wasn’t there a little mini-spear in there too at some point? Booth analyst Harry Neale called it a spear right away.)
- Again, Kessel fight Scott? Even engage the guy? Hell no. But once Scott was being taken care of, what was Kessel doing?
- Kessel suggested on Wednesday that fans/critics would do the same thing as he did, as if to say, “what would all you people have done if confronted by a guy like Scott?” Well, ah, you’re right, Phil. As an aging non-athlete (at this point in my life), and weighing maybe 100 pounds less than Scott (and not skilled in martial arts) I would have left the premises, yes.
- However, I’m not a professional athlete making millions of dollars a year who clearly knows and accepts the risks of the sport going in. In other words, it’s not my/our job as “fans”. We pay my share to the MLSE/NHL coffers one way or another. So whether a player likes the opinion of some fans (he doesn’t have to like our views, of course) fans will see what they see, observe, assess and walk away with impressions, fair or not. On occasion Phil, it is your job to face tough guys—not necessarily fight—in fact, maybe never fight), but I would suggest there was no need for a vicious slash after the fact.
- That Phil felt compelled to call out his critics just gives me (and maybe I’m on an island on this one, I realize) a continuing sense that he just doesn’t get fans in this market, or maybe anywhere. Furthermore, I’m not sure a 200 pound professional athlete who is adored by many and paid a gazillion dollars a year should reduce himself to basically saying, “I ran and hit him with my stick, but you would have, too…”. I mean, sure, he’s right, but the optics are just not good, at least to me.
- So where do I land on all this? A suspension that covers exhibition games only is a joke. It amounts to a holiday for the Leaf winger. A three-game suspension would have maybe been over the top for the regular season, but Kessel receives no punishment, essentially, for doing what he did? Sounds like another NHL double-standard to me.
- I heard ex-Sabre tough guy Rob Ray say on Tuesday that Scott actually did Kessel a favour by warning him that he was going after Kessel once the puck was dropped. I don’t know I fully get that, but OK. I’m hardly supporting Scott, except that he was looking to take out the first Leaf he was lined up with, given what had just happened between Devane and Tropp. Most Leaf fans would have felt differently if the tables were turned? I doubt it.
- Kessel would never start this stuff, and has no interest in this garbage. I get that, too. He was put in a lousy position. But let’s be clear: if you are a pacifist, or a person who only very reluctantly will engage in fisticuffs in those situations, then is there much of a difference (in terms of fans perception) between a) skating to your own bench to get away from Scott b) turtling or c) slashing/spearing a defenseless player? Was what Kessel did more “manly” (in hockey terms, if the concern is public perception) than those other things? Yes, he waited for the cavalry to come after his initial response, understandably, but then went back at Scott.
I know, I know, heat of the moment. But that is not always an excuse.
Anyway, this is all by way of saying the whole situation stunk. Both coaches did what coaches do, which is make things worse. Kessel was in a bit of a no-win situation but somehow he made things even worse, and I believe he should have been suspended for a game.
I loathe bullying and have written on that topic on other forums many times. So I’m no hockey-goon supporter. We could get rid of that part of the game and I’d be thrilled. I say let the real tough guys (that I’ve defined here at VLM before, I won’t go through my definition of hockey toughness again) play hockey the right way.
But as much as I dislike goons and bullies, I’m not sure we should set aside punishing a pacifist (and that’s not a criticism, just a recognition that, understandably, some players do not want to get into fights; they’re there to play hockey) who goes to far, even if it was initially a response borne of fear.
Kessel should have been punished. Your thoughts?