So you’re St. Louis Blues forward Max Lapierre and on Wednesday, as you’re preparing to play a game against the San Jose Sharks, the news about Patrick Kaleta hits at precisely 6:51 p.m. Eastern, or just before puck drop.
Kaleta is getting a 10-game suspension for running his shoulder into the head of Columbus Blue Jackets’ defenceman Jack Johnson. The message from NHL discipline chief Brendan Shanahan is clear: Serial offenders are on the league’s watch list and players with a litany of dangerous plays on their resumes will be heavily scrutinized.
So you’re Max Lapierre and you must make the connection in your head and think, “that probably means me.” Then you do the math and you realize, “wow, 10 games is almost a month out of the lineup and a big chunk out of Kaleta’s pay packet. The NHL is getting serious, better be on my best behaviour, tonight anyway.”
Because even if Lapierre’s last suspension came more than three years ago against the Sharks’ Scott Nichol – an ugly hit that sent the San Jose forward crashing unprotected into the end boards – everybody knows how Lapierre plays, on the edge and often over the edge. Lapierre is one of those “rats” that people believe will be allowed to run around unchallenged if fighting were to disappear from the game. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened yet, so the players can still self police!
So you’re Max Lapierre and early in the game, you’re closing in on Sharks’ defenceman Dan Boyle as he turns in the corner to rim a backhand pass around the back of the San Jose net. A basic, every day hockey play, except Boyle stumbles and appears to lose an edge as he turns. Nowadays, most players realize that when an opponent’s in trouble, and he’s already moved the puck anyway, there is no need to hit someone in a vulnerable position. It’s what hybrid icing is all about – trying to make today’s speed-of-light NHL game safer for the participants.
But no, because you’re Max Lapierre, you see an opportunity to come in a split second late and finish your check because that’s what you do. The rest of the story you may know by now: Boyle’s chin clips the boards and he falls to the ice, out cold. The trainers call for a stretcher; the obligatory fights take place after the fact, and a pall is cast over a game between two undefeated teams. Boyle spends the night in hospital, but thankfully, is alert and every one of his body parts still moves. It is unclear when he’ll get back in the San Jose lineup and Lapierre has earned an in-person hearing with Shanahan on Friday, which generally means a suspension of six games or more.
Eventually, when an explanation comes from Lapierre, it will be some riff on, “I didn’t mean to hurt him, I did nothing wrong, he’s a good guy, I hope he’s okay.’ As if that will be good enough. It won’t be.
Lots of the current Sharks players were on the team back when Lapierre put that hit on Nichol, including centre Joe Pavelski, who summed it up succinctly: “Idiots are idiots out there.” And San Jose coach Todd McLellan put it well too: “It doesn't have to happen in our game. It doesn't have to happen."
No, it doesn’t - and it shouldn’t and presumably, Shanahan will ensure the punishment accurately fits the crime. The less we see of the Max Lapierres and the Patrick Kaletas in the future, the better off the game will be.
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