As John Scott appears for his discipline hearing Thursday at the NHL’s head office in New York, there is no shortage of people who hope it will spark a drive by the league to eliminate this kind of player from the game.
Do not bet on it.
Please do not argue Scott, 31, is there mainly to play hockey. In 187 games spread over a little more than six NHL seasons, the 6-foot-8, 270-pounder has one goal and four assists. He also has 324 minutes in penalties, which seems a bit low for someone in his line of work.
Then again, before he was suspended indefinitely by the NHL pending Thursday’s hearing and a decision, the Buffalo Sabres player was on the ice for an average of 4 minutes and 57 seconds a game this season, which is 675th out of 689 players. That does not allow much time for more than one five-minute fighting penalty every other game or so.
Scott is on NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s docket because he strayed from targeting another slugger: On Oct. 23, he drifted across centre ice and lowered the boom with a blindside hit to the head of Boston Bruins winger Loui Eriksson.
If Eriksson, who was left with a concussion and is at least a week away from playing again, has ever appeared in any of the videos on hockeyfights.com, it was only as a spectator.
Scott has violated the NHL’s complicated and ever-shifting “code” for the second time in as many months. That’s why a lot of voices would like to see him banished by Shanahan for a significant period – well in excess of the 10 games currently being served by his Sabres teammate, Patrick Kaleta – in the hope it would finally start a movement to push the designated fighters out of the game.
“Five years,” was the semi-serious answer from one NHL general manager who was asked what he thought would be an appropriate punishment. But the same fellow, who wished to remain anonymous because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman takes a dim view of those who chime in on league matters before they are concluded, has no illusions about any progress coming from this particular case.
“Probably not,” the GM said about the chances of Scott’s punishment starting a trend.
The GM, who is not a fighting advocate, thinks Scott should get at least 10 games, which is the sort of suspension dealt to repeat offenders such as Kaleta by the Shanahan administration. It is a sentiment echoed by a number of the executive’s peers.
However, despite an impression to the contrary, Scott is not considered a repeat offender. He did touch off an altercation in a preseason game by threatening Toronto Maple Leafs star forward Phil Kessel and then making a move toward him, but Scott has not officially appeared in front of Shanahan before.
Another obstacle to a lengthy suspension is the NHL Players’ Association, which is in its usual difficult position in such matters. The union is obliged to look out for the interests of Scott, as well as Eriksson.
While many of its members want to rid the game of head shots like the one Scott laid on Eriksson, a majority of them are still unwilling to support stiffer penalties on fighting that would eventually push players like Scott out of the NHL.
If Shanahan issues a suspension for more than five games, Scott has the right to appeal the decision to an independent arbiter, which he will certainly be encouraged to do by the NHLPA. It was thought the union would push for Kaleta to appeal his suspension to test the right the players won in the most recent collective agreement.
However, Kaleta decided against it, and it seems the union did not try to convince him otherwise. Kaleta has a history of dubious hits and the NHLPA would probably have faced more than a few angry members if it went to bat for him.
But you can bet the union will push for an appeal for Scott, which complicates the matter of this becoming an important test case for those who want to eliminate these hits.
Actually, I rather like the suggestion offered on Twitter by my colleague Gare Joyce: If you really want to punish the Sabres and start a push to eliminate the sluggers, don’t suspend Scott at all. Make him play every minute of the first period for 10 games.
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