Two Globe hockey writers share their thoughts on Edmonton Oilers' rookie Taylor Hall engaging in his first NHL fight last night.
Taylor Hall did something you never want to see Thursday night and it may cost him any slim chance he might have had at the Calder Trophy for the NHL's rookie of the year.
Towards the end of the second period of a game that his Edmonton Oilers would ultimately win 4-2 over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hall objected to a hit from Blue Jackets' rough-and-tumble Derek Dorsett and picked a fight with him. This is not smart any time, but it's really not smart for a teenage rookie to engage a guy that makes his living as an NHL middleweight.
Dorsett had 121 penalty minutes in 56 games this season, to go along with his three goals. His job is to keep the Taylor Halls of the world off balance. The only worse thing would have been if Hall had gone after a heavyweight like 6 foot 3 Jared Boll to have his first NHL fight.
Still, the results were predictable. Dorsett tagged him with a good one and then wrestled him to the ice. It looked as if Hall injured his left ankle as he fell. If, as suspected, it turns out to be a high ankle sprain, the Oilers would likely shut Hall down for the season, rather than risk having him come back too early in a year that's effectively over for the Oilers anyway. Edmonton had been playing better hockey of late, but it's hard to imagine them having any success the rest of the way, with Hall joining Ales Hemsky (shoulder, out three weeks) on the shelf.
Afterward, Hall acknowledged that he didn't show great judgment. Hall, according to old friend Jim Matheson, suggested: "I probably shouldn't have had my first one against him … I know how he plays. He did hit me with a good punch."
Thirty years ago, in the Wayne Gretzky era, the Oilers employed a series of tough guys - Dave Semenko, Don Jackson, eventually Marty McSorley - to do the battling on behalf of their skilled players. Maybe an outright ban on fighting - players who engage get tossed - would have made a difference here, or maybe not. This wasn't a staged encounter; this was done out of Hall's frustration and his desire to show that he wouldn't be pushed around.
It will be forever known as Hall's first Gordie Howe hat trick - goal, assist, fight - and maybe, down the road, it'll also serve as an important lesson as he moves along the NHL development path. Sometimes, discretion can be the better part of valour after all.
To succeed in the NHL, it's important to know what you are.
Taylor Hall is the first overall draft pick from 2010 and his team's leading goal-scorer, and should know, despite his tender years, that he's a lover, not a fighter.
But there he was, mixing it up with the Columbus Blue Jackets' Derek Dorsett on Thursday night, dropping the gloves in a moment of youthful abandon, and twisting his ankle in the process.
For a guy with vaunted hockey smarts, it was a pretty stupid thing to get involved in.
It's not known how long he'll be out, or even if he'll be out. And it's not like star offensive players don't occasionally fight (see Iginla, J., Crosby, S., and even Gretzky, W.) But you'd think skill players in the league will have noticed Chris Stewart, then of the Avalanche, derail his career season by breaking his hand in a fight, wouldn't you?
Hall's decision to go after Dorsett could result in more than just physical pain.
There are 17 games left in the season, and Hall has 42 points, third among rookies.
Let's assume he only misses a couple of games. Hall has been a point-a-game player over his last seven games, and if he could sustain the pace, would be on track for 60 points.
Were he to reach that milestone, he would almost certainly qualify for the maximum $212,000 rookie bonus (there are about half a dozen criteria). If he doesn't, start rolling back the dollars.
Hall currently trails only Carolina's Jeff Skinner and San Jose's Logan Couture in rookie scoring, and has just three fewer goals than the co-goal leaders Couture and Michael Grabner of the Islanders - he will certainly get consideration for the Calder trophy for rookie of the year.
But what if he misses two or three weeks and his stats suffer?
The difference between finishing second or third in the Calder voting is $50,000. The difference between second and first is $62,500.
No hockey player thinks of the financial implications of dropping the gloves, but these incentives exist for a reason - points pay, kiddies.
Maybe what Hall earns in terms of respect from teammates and fans will be rewarding enough - as Oilers coach Tom Renney said: "We drafted character, so we definitely expect character to show up and it did. Good for him. Scraps happen. He had enough of the liberties."
It's a surprising thing for Renney, an enlightened coach, to say. But then, the Oilers have nothing to play for, other than yet another lottery pick, so what does it really matter if Hall picks up a nick while defending his own honour?
And Hall will be celebrated for his first Gordie Howe hat trick, an achievement that, quite frankly, best belongs in the Howe era.
Although the feat doesn't appear to impress him unduly.
"I've never had one of those before," he told NHL.com. "I don't know if I want to have too many more, especially with the repercussions."
Should have maybe thought about the repercussions a little longer before dropping the gloves, eh Taylor?
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