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The Kessel flap

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?


  1. Sitting the first one out wouldn't have been an outrageous decision, based on what Kessel did. There was probably no intent to, or serious threat of injury, but the slashing around looked rather vicious and/or ridiculous. It looked like he was besieged by a wasp and tried to get it off his hair. He was scared, probably rightly so, and got a dumb bout of adrenaline out of it. If it had been Joe Colborne, it would probably have been 3-5 games. Star players get away with a lot more than the rank and file does in the NHL. Actually, the same goes for pretty much every professional hockey league in the world. And hockey isn't the only, nor the first one.

    I fully know I'm preaching to to the choir, here, but banning, or even boxing, star players isn't great for ticket sales. The ACC can live without seeing Kessel, but the lesser market audiences want to see him getting stumped. And that won't happen (or it's already given) if he's sitting on the sidelines. Much like Ovechkin, Or Crosby.

    The "true hockey toughness" left the league with Clark, Probert and McSorley. Sure, there are always guys who play through injuries, and whatnot. But it's a sad day when 6'8" John Scott drops his gloves in front of 6' Kessel, and in the aftermath, the only one to actually get suspended is the guy who tries to play Sir Lancelot. "Welcome to NHL, I hope you'll be a fan for life!"

    As things are, I'm happy Kessel didn't get more than a few days of vacation. We'll need him. Randy needs him more still, and maybe he'll be more considerate on throwing him to wolves in the future.

    1. No question there is a different standard for star players, CGLN. And as I wrote, Kessel was put in a very difficult situation. I think a game would have been fair, but whatever.

      Yes, the kind of "toughness" you and I are talking about seems hard to find sometimes, but it existed in the guys you mention and others like O'Reilly, Nystrom, Tonneli and others in the semi-olden days- not to mention the players of my youth in the late '50s and early '60s. Thanks CGLN, well said.

  2. I seem to recall my Dad referencing the 'toughness' of Tim Horton and continuing to describe how often Tim would just put an opposing combatant in a bear hug and sit him down on the ice! I know I felt Tropp was 'game to go' but did not realize the size differential (even if he is a light/middleweight scrapper). I wonder if Devane could have done something 'Horton-esque' to demonstrate his 'superiority'... seems too focused upon 'proving something' that seems to have infected Bernier and, even, Kessel.

    The latter's first swing is 'understandable', however, I was disturbed by the swings after 2 subsequent Leafs (Brennan and then Ashton) intervened for Phil. I think Kessel was 'caught up' in his own self-justification from his initial actions and failed to recognize that further actions upon Scott would be somewhat 'rat-like'. A subsequent viewing of the 'spear' gave me the impression that Kessel 'mostly' just laid the base of his blade on Scott's mid-section with a little push (it didn't appear to be a 'full on' spearing to me), however, since Scott was otherwise engaged, why 'poke the bear'? Perhaps Kessel feels a little 'too protected' and thought there was no risk in such activity... I hope it doesn't become standard fare for him in an altercation... I hope it all ends here and now, so I can go back to enjoying his greater (more pleasing) skills and abilities.

    I hope that he will 'reign in' his 'Sabre-rattling' skills in the future because it is not 'becoming' - he needs to find another way to demonstrate strength or the requisite 'toughness' in the future... that said, I hope Carlyle doesn't 'diffuse' a situation in the same manner again. It would be great if guys 'fighting' for jobs (like Devane) could still show some restraint (could come in handy in a Playoff situation, methinks).

    In answer to your last question, I think one regular season game might have given Phil more pause for thought than the 3 pre-season vacation, however, I started to wonder if the league perceives that Kessel was being unusually targeted and just chose to end his 'availability' until the real games start! I hope they warned him that such subsequent actions will cost him in the future AND I hope that will be enough to help him to restrain that 'instinct' in the future.

    1. That's a great post, InTimeFor62. I, too, think this was a one off for Phil. He doesn't go looking for this kind of silliness. Thanks.

  3. Hey Michael

    Firstly, nice to put a face to the name with your video post. Neat initiative, nice work.

    Secondly, I guess I pretty much agree with you on the specifics of Kessel's actions. I can forgive the first slash while he's back-pedalling for his life, but the subsequent hacks at Scott's legs and body were all just petty and inexcusable. I think he only got off as lightly as he did because the powers that be realised that Scott was going to get off, ah, Scott-free, for essentially putting everyone in a pretty dodgy position by going after a team's No. 1 star and the NHL didn't want the long-term penalties for the two teams to be too out of balance. I mean, is Scott really so obtuse in his comments that he would have gone after whoever was lined up against him that he would have fought Crosby if he had been engaged with the Penguins?

    And maybe I have my Leaf-goggles on, but I can't really see what the Sabres were so angry about. In the least, Tropp and Devane's altercation was a mutual thing. Frankly, it looked to me like Tropp instigated the fight. He has a documented history of challenging goons that was 5 links-to-video long when I saw it listed on another blog. Further. It appears to me having watched the video that his injuries were not clearly a result of a punch, but most likely from Devane falling on top of him as they wrestled and Tropp hit the ground helmet-less with the much larger Devane on top of him.

    Those were my observations, Michael. Hopefully we're all not too far away from flushing the dunny and moving on.

    1. Yes, hopefully this will be the end of the "brawl" discussion. I just wanted to be clear in sharing my perspective with VLM readers. Thanks, KiwiLeaf. (And thank you for watching the program.)

  4. I noticed Kessel slashing players that tried to get physical with him last season on a number of occasions and I see nothing wrong with that. I think it's ok for a skilled player to slash goons that are trying to intimidate him. In the Buffalo brawl, however, I think he went too far (especially with that last spearing) and should have been punished. That was definitely ratty. I totally agree with you that he should have been suspended for a game or two of hockey that matters and made to play out the preseason. This way he basically gets to sit out the pre-season games which I feel he sees as a burden. I think Carlyle's comment that Phil will now practice extra hard is a reference to this situation.

    One of your commenters on a previous post made a very good point which was that this was all on Carlyle who insists on dressing a number of goons but chooses to throw Kessel to the 'wolf' and risk getting his star player injured instead of accepting the challenge that Rolston presented him with.

    Finally, I do think that even if the coach told Scott to attack Kessel (and he didn't - he just told him to attack whoever was opposite him) Scott shouldn't have done it because if the goon in today's game cannot follow 'the code' on top of not being able to play than what good is he? On the other hand, as someone also pointed in this forum, to expect a goon to think for himself and disobey the coach's order may be a little too much.

    In conclusion, I gotta say that, even as a die-hard Leafs fan, I am a little disappointed in how the team handled this situation - Carlyle screwed up, Clarkson screwed up and Kessel screwed up. On the other hand, I am impressed with how Carlyle and Clarkson owned up to their mistakes in the interviews they gave after the game. I hope Kessel too learns from this and does not turn into a rat - we have a pretty good one in Kadri already (did you notice him tapping Miller with a stick after the final whistle?). Kessel is a classy player and he should keep his game clean - it's cool that he knows how to protect himself and he certainly should but he should really let any number of goons that Carlyle and Nonis have surrounded him with do their job. And Carlyle - for god's sake - if you're gonna have 4 goons in a regular line-up on any given night, then let them do their job!

    1. I appreciate your comment, leafdreamer. Fair and balanced. I can understand that things happen in the emotion of a game, but yes, the Leafs overall could have handled this a bit better. Thanks.

  5. First I'd like to say that the brawl took me back to old time hockey. Back when players could skate and deeke and goalies could actually move to make a save without getting yelled at, and yes, fighting for some kind of a reason. The kind of hockey you write a lot about and seem to favour.

    To me the fights were just part of a good old hockey game. As I recall, you very much admire Gordie Howe and the way he played. He was known for his stickwork aound the net and also around opponents ears. Is he different from Kessel? Why is it OK for Gordie to do it for years, and on Kessel's first offence you're jumping all over him?

    You also say Kessel "makes millions of dollars a year who clearly knows and accepts the risks of the sport going in". Doesn't Tropp also know and accept the risks of the sport? What did Scott think Kessel would do? Fight? Scott thought he could pick on the little kid in the yard and get away with it. Why is it OK for Scott to jump Phill and not OK for Phill to hack him away. If this is a man's game, than everyone should man up. If you play dirty, expect some of the same.

    The worst thing to come out of this is Clarkson's suspension. It could hurt the team, and that's the last thing any of us want. Not too bright on his part.

    So basically I'm saying I don't think you've applied your views and criticism to all involved in the same way. What's good for the goose is good for the gander I suppose.

    That's also how I see the way you "defend" Reimer. You know I like James, but a couple of posts back you wrote that we all know Reimer gives up a softy almost every game. I don't think we should just accept that or pretend it's meaningless. He gives us a chance to get back in the game, yes. But if not for his softy, we wouldn't need to get back in the game. He's not a child a shouldn't be patted on the head. Here comes the word... accountability. He's a very likeable guy but that shouldn't make us overlook things.

    Sory for the long post, it's been a while since the last one.
    As always, fantastic job Michael.

    1. Hi portuguese leaf. Thank you for that post. Passionate and understandably so. I think you know that one of the things that I like about this site is we can discuss and debate in a respectful way. So your post made me reflect further, for sure.

      To be clear, I saw Howe play countless times. He fought his own battles. He used his stick, yes, but he never (as I recall, at least) swung his stick at opposing players. That was not how he operated. He used his elbows, yes, and would use his stick but not the way Kessel did, swinging it wildly at a guy in open ice. Howe simply never did that.

      Yes, Tropp must know the 'risks', too. But are we comparing a marginal player with a league superstar? Maybe my expectations of Kessel are too high, but they should be for the league's best.

      I was critical of Mario Lemieux many years ago when he attacked an on-ice official (at least he tried to) after, as I recall, coming out of the penalty box. The league did virtually nothing about it. We wouldn't accept that from an everyday player but we shouldn't accept it from stars, either. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour. So I don't think I'm being unfair to Phil. He was in a tough spot and I simply feel he could have handled it differently.

      As for Reimer, I'm not overlooking his faults. I discuss them here regularly. I just think he usually overcomes them to compete and help the team stay in the game, and often win.

      Good stuff, well put, thanks portuguese leaf!

  6. We are fans of a game that is so fast that a tenth of a second can win or lose a game. Everything- a bad hit, a goal, a punch- happens in seconds. I understand Kessel reacting as he did. He knows the other slash was wrong and should have got, and would have accepted, 2-3 regular season games for it. It is not his fault that the league decided something different. In my opinion, that is a mistake. At any rate, Kessel should have been corralled and sent to the dressing room following his fight.
    I am not sure who Carlyle could have put in. Devane- hardly the best choice under the circumstances and still only an AHL player. In fact sending any fighter out would have been an invitation to Scott and a thoughtless sacrifice of a young player. He had no one in the line-up to match up with Scott and chose another option. I have no idea who should have been sent out and apparently it made no difference to Scott.
    Buffalo now has a young player with a broken jaw, Flynne ( hurt challeging Kessel )and Miller were dragged into fights they did not want. Young Ashton narrowly avoided a hard and dangerous punch from behind while his back was turned. Certainly both teams suffered and it could have been much worse.
    It is sad that this all occurred because of a staged fight, that young players feel pressured to prove themselves this way and that fighters feel they need to go for the knock-out. Then again Devane is a young fighter who is also feeling the same pressure to prove himself.
    I am pretty sure the code is a myth for most players and it is up to each enforcer to learn to show some character and restraint. I have the greatest respect for the few of those who do.
    On a lighter note, Michael, I was very relieved to hear that Franson has been signed. C.N.

  7. An unfortunate situation all around, C.N., for sure - and I appreciate your perspective.

    But yes, good to see a solid defenseman signed today.

  8. As a world-weary adult I have a I have a far different perspective of things than I did as child, as teenager...even different than when I was a responsible 35 year-old.

    Hockey isn’t quite the pure and beautiful game of my childhood. It never really was, but I was young naive. I didn’t know anything about genocides or the other horrors of the world. I spent my childhood in a praire town with rececption of one TV channel and everybody I knew went to church on Sunday.

    As an adult I recognize that Hockey is a brutal game. Thousands play for below minimum wage in the CHL, fail to make the pros and screw up their lives, when they should be getting an education. (There is no way I would let my son play in the OHL, only college.) There are the John Kordics and Boogard horror stories. There is Steve Moore. There are other horror stories from the distant past

    That being said, hockey still entertains me. I love watching the game, its speed and skill. And I do like and pay attention to the game within the game, the rising tides of momentum, scoring and aggression.

    “Devane went way further than he had to with Tropp.”

    I agree with this to a degree. Devane really was quick off the hop and vicious with little restraint. I asked myself why and looked back at the video. Why no typical square off?

    What do I see? Corey Tropp has his stick between Devane’s legs banging twice in the cup area in the 1:25 to 1:29 mark:

    Some trash talk combined with jousting, stick between the legs, pulling on the sweater? If Tropp banged Devane in the cup area, that might explain the especially quick , harsh reaction and lack of restraint.

    We now know that Tropp has a broken jaw and will be out 5 to six weeks. The break does not come from the ice. (The back of his head hit the ice.) The damage comes when Devane switches to his left hand and gets a clear short shot. You can see it best at the 1:43 mark. Devane is left-handed, so he can punch with even more devastating effect when he switches hands.

    While this is unfortunate for Cory Tropp, it may work out for well the Leafs. Most of the players in the NHL now know the danger in Devane. I see him replacing Orr within 2 years. Guys like Chris Neil will be reasonably polite with Devane on the ice and were in the last Leafs vs Senators game.

    It will be interesting to see how Milan Lucic behaves with Devane on the ice

    Somewhat lost in all of this is that Devane continues to play well. Look at him free up the puck for Phaneuf’s goal and stay in the play with decent speed:

    We may have found a really tough guy that can actually play the game... a John Ferguson type player in a Leafs jersey.

    Sorry if I sound cold and harsh, but hockey is a brutal game.

    “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.”

    I think this is part of the reason why Kessel is shy. He recognizes that if he is honest and open that people may not like him as much.

    I am ok with what Phil did. It ensured that he did not become a Steve Moore with a career ending in an altercation/mugging. All John Scott has to do is fall on him and Kessel’s carreer could be ended. Steve Moore’s career ended with Bertuzzi on top of him.

    The preseason suspension does mean something. Kessel has now had a hearing for a stick infraction and he will get a heavy suspension if he does it again. He has lost his clean record. He will be repeat offender.

    In all pretty ugly, but with the ultra-cheap Franson signing, the Leafs should be ok.

  9. I'm sorry but this notion that just because Devane is a bigger man than Tropp he should have held back or somehow pulled his punches is ridiculous. When you get into a fight you fight to win. Both these youngsters are trying desperately to make their respective NHL teams and in Devane's case as a fighter with hockey skills. How would it look if a supposed fighter either backed away from a fight or fought with one hand behind his back? For both of these guys making the NHL and being sent back is the difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are both marginal NHL players and may never again get so close to such a huge payday, Tropp wants to make his reputation as a gritty 2-way forward ( a little research into his history shows that he is in fact a capable fighter with a history of fighting all comers) while Devane wants to take Orr's or McLaren's job. Half measures aren't going to get you that multi-year six figure job. Last comment on that is that Tropp isn't exactly a small man he stands over six feet and near 200 pounds, smaller than Devane but hardly what I'd call a midget.

    As for Kessel he should have been suspended. Lucky for him it happened in the pre season. The suspension is not really as joke because the fact is he is now a repeat offender and anymore shenanigans will result in a much bigger punishment. Kessel has used up his get out of jail free card and must now be on his best behaviour. I can forgive Phil the first slash but the second slash was beyond the pale and deserves what he got. Even if this had taken place in the regular season he only gets one game maybe two for his actions. So I think Kessel's second slash and subsequent poke were gutless and I didn't like seeing it at all.

    As for consenting to certain actions on the ice being assaulted is not one of them. Yes I consent to being hit legally, yes I accept the fact that I may get hurt on a play, that I may get a high stick in the facial area. I will never consent to being mugged by a player who has no business being on the ice period.

    Last but not least Rob Ray is an idiot. I heard his comments and just shook my head. Apparently being a goon in your NHL days means all the coherent thoughts in your head just sore of dribbled out over the years.

    Least, the Leafs live by the sword and they die by the sword. Did I like what Scott did, not in the least. Then again I didn't like it when the resident Leaf face punchers went after the skilled guys from Montreal last year. Orr fighting Gionta and giving 25 goal score Rene Bourque a concussion while Maclaren fights noted pugilist Josh Georges is not in any way different than what Scott attempted to do. Although I will give Maclaren credit he at least did go easy on Georges in that fight, if I remember correctly he was laughing during it. The fact is the Leafs employed goon tactics last year so they can't complain this year when other teams in their division start retaliating against them with their own tactics.

  10. Michael, I think we agree that Kessel should have been given a few games for the swings. Were they lenient with him because their hands were tied as far as Scott was concerned? They couldn't suspend Scott for his part so would it be right for Kessel alone to pay the price? C.N.

    1. It was a difficult circumstance to assess fairly all around from the league's perspective, agreed, C.N.- Kessel didn't start any of this so the league likely took the middle ground- a few meaningless pre-season games.