Clarke MacArthur is finally reporting to work on Saturday, having paid his two-game penance for checking an opponent on the head, and MacArthur is both defiant and hesitant, if such a thing is possible.
On the one hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward said he is not going to change the way he plays because Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice-president of player safety and director of hockey operations, suspended him for the first two games of the season, costing him about $35,000 (all currency U.S.) in lost salary. But at the same time, MacArthur added, Shanahan’s long list of suspensions in the preseason had a chilling effect on the willingness of him and other players to make big hits.
“Yeah, 100 per cent,” MacArthur said. “No one wants to lose money. Guys are definitely thinking about it. No one wants to lose that kind of cash.”
While Shanahan insisted in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail that he has not softened his standards for punishing hits to the head in the wake of criticism from some players and NHL general managers, MacArthur is not so sure. Shanahan said there has been only one suspension so far in the regular season (for a high stick, not a head shot) because the players adapted quickly to the new standard for head shots, but MacArthur thinks the criticism had some effect.
“I think it’s probably a little of both,” MacArthur said. “There were definitely some hits that could have been called [since the regular season started]and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to see guys get suspended.”
However, MacArthur admits to some confusion about what is allowed and what isn’t. He thought he had a good handle on it when the preseason games started, only to draw a two-game suspension for a hit on Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader that he thought did not warrant the punishment.
“I thought it was more along the lines of a hit that could hurt someone, not brushing the sideburns off someone,” MacArthur said. “I thought it would be based more on a hard collision and injuries, not just any little contact.
“They’re going to more of the hard hits now, it looks like, and they’re going to ease up on the other stuff.”
Under NHL rules, if MacArthur hits anyone else on the head, he will be considered a repeat offender and subject to a stiffer penalty than a two-game suspension.
“Yeah, it’s like a speeding ticket,” he said with a smile. “I’ve got to be clear for 18 months at least before it gets erased.”
MacArthur and a few of his teammates offered some sympathy for the latest player to hit the league’s radar, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Arron Asham. He came under fire for taunting Washington Capitals rookie Jay Beagle after knocking him down in a fight Thursday night.
Asham imitated the knockout gesture of a WWE performer while Beagle lay unconscious on the ice after taking two punches to the head. Asham challenged Beagle to a fight after the Caps’ forward punched Penguins’ defenceman Kris Letang.
Players around the league agreed with the NHL’s decision not to suspend Asham. The most common sentiments were that Asham is generally an “honest player” who was not known for such behaviour but was caught up in the emotion of winning a fight and he quickly apologized for the mocking gesture, calling it “classless.”
“I think he’s a pretty honest player,” Leafs winger Colby Armstrong said. “I think he might have got caught up in the adrenalin. It’s tough to control your emotions. At the time, he probably didn’t know how bad he hurt the guy, but those things happen.”
Leafs forward Jay Rosehill, no stranger to hockey fights, agreed.
“You don’t celebrate,” he said. “That could just as easily be you [on the receiving end] I don’t think you’ll see him do that again. Guys that do that are few and far between. If you suspend him, what does that do?”