It’s rare on these pages to see an article complaining that a player’s suspension is too long, but hear me out. On Wednesday the 15th; this happened in the game between the Calgary Flames and the Detroit Red Wings:
After the Flames’ Brett Kulak got his gloves and stick up in the face of Red Wings winger David Booth‘s face, offseason addition Luke Witkowski decided to physically educate Kulak on why he considered his behaviour to be inappropriate in the modern game of hockey. After flooring Kulak, Witkowski then called out Travis Hamonic but the officials kept the two separate. For his troubles, Witkowski was given a misconduct. Hamonic’s comments were later addressed by Anthony Mantha on the floor between the benches, as seen above.
While being escorted from the box to the dressing room tunnel; Flames pest Matthew Tkachuk poked/slashed Witkowski’s legs as he stepped of the ice, prompting Witkowski to turn around and engage in more fistuciffs. This then sparked a larger brawl. As Witkowski had stepped off the ice and thus returned to it, he fell foul of NHL rule 70.6 and automatically incurred a 10 game ban. This was appealed by the Red Wings but was upheld on Thursday.
70.6 Game Misconduct Penalty – Any player who has been ordered to the dressing room by the
officials and returns to his bench or to the ice surface for any reason
before the appropriate time shall be assessed a game misconduct and
shall be suspended automatically without pay for the next ten (10)
regular League and/or Play-off games.
While the rule has been applied correctly; the rule itself needs to be reconsidered. Before you put this down to my obvious Red Wings bias; I absolutely believe that Witkowkski should get a ban for his actions. I also have no particular admiration for the player, aside from his strong beard game. He has no points in eight games and his passing still leaves a lot to be desired.
The problem with the rule is that it allows no leeway to adjust the length of the ban based on circumstances, and this game definitely had extenuating circumstances that deserved consideration. The rule is designed more as a deterrent to stop players entering the ice purely to engage in a fight, and while a rule like that is needed in the current NHL; there has to be flexibility in the consequences.
Witkowski, for all of his sins, didn’t leave the bench, he was barely off the ice. While being escorted from the penalty box, an opposition player was allowed to approach and strike Witkowski. The penalised Red Wings player then reacted to this. Yes, of course the Wings forward shouldn’t have reacted the way he did, but Tkachuk shouldn’t have been able to slash at him. Now two wrongs don’t make a right, and Tkachuk is quite rightly facing a hearing for his actions.
Usually we’re complaining that the suspensions handed out by the NHL are too short, or two lenient. But what’s for certain is that the suspension served by Tkachuk, if any, won’t be as length as 10 games. Had the incident happened 10 seconds earlier while both players were still on the ice. This wouldn’t even be a discussion. The loss of Witkowski for the next 10 games isn’t massive for the Red Wings. He’s no Nicklas Lidstrom after all, but he’s still important enough to be part of the roster and with Trevor Daley still questionable, the Wings need all the support they can get.
Of course if Tkachuk gets a ten game ban, then I’ll be slightly less triggered by all of this.