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Florida Panthers defenceman Keith Ballard accidentally strikes goaltender Tomas Vokoun with his stick after Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers scores on Monday night. (John Bazemore/John Bazemore/AP)
Florida Panthers defenceman Keith Ballard accidentally strikes goaltender Tomas Vokoun with his stick after Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers scores on Monday night. (John Bazemore/John Bazemore/AP)

Eric Duhatschek

NHL needs to punish Ballard Add to ...

Suppose an NHL player wound up and took a two-handed swing with his hockey stick, baseball-style, which connected with another player squarely in the face.

Suppose that injured player received a laceration on the ear and was forced to leave the game on a stretcher.

What would be the penalty?

Remember too that the NHL generally deals more severely with stick fouls than any other. Marty McSorley on Donald Brashear. Wilf Paiement on Dennis Polonich. Eddie Shore on Ace Bailey. For a lot of sound reasons, the NHL tries hard to dissuade players from swinging their sticks at each other because a hockey stick is potentially a dangerous weapon that could result in serious injury, possibly even death.

Now suppose that the aforementioned scenario occurred in an NHL game Monday night and the only anomaly was that the player swinging his stick - Florida Panthers defenceman Keith Ballard - isn't on the carpet with the league because the player he slashed was his teammate, goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

The crazy incident happened in a game against Atlanta, after Vokoun made a save against the Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk, but lost sight of the loose puck. Kovalchuk spotted it first and before Vokoun could react poked it into the Panthers' goal. Ballard, frustrated by the sequence, swung his stick, intending to crack it on the goal post. Instead, Vokoun's head got in the way and Ballard's stick clipped him hard on the mask.

For sure, it was an accident; Ballard, on the bench, watching the replay on the Jumbotron, looked mortified at what he'd done. But it doesn't make him any less culpable, or change the fundamental facts - which are that players are supposed to be in control of their sticks at all times. They know it, too. Even those times when a player accidentally opens up a cut on an opponent's face, he understands he's going to the penalty box to serve a double minor. Nobody even bothers to argue any more.

So is Ballard's action a offence that merits a suspension? It should be - although there is no precedent for penalizing or otherwise punishing a player who committed a foul on a teammate, even if it meets all the necessary requirements for supplementary discipline. What Ballard did was reckless and his actions resulted in an injury (thankfully not too serious) to a player on the ice.

On a day when the NHL's czar of discipline, Colin Campbell, will need to address a knee-on-knee collision between the game's leading player, the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, and the Carolina Hurricanes' Tim Gleason - Ovechkin received a five-minute major on the play and was ejected from Monday's game - the Ballard incident is probably a secondary concern at the moment.

Ovechkin is, after all, a big deal - and if he's out for any length of time, either because of the injury suffered on the play, or any supplementary discipline the league might be inclined to assess, it would negatively affect the league's primary box-office draw.

About 10 days ago, Campbell banished the Montreal Canadiens' Georges Laracque for five games for a knee-on-knee contact with the Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall was significantly injured on the play; Gleason returned two shifts later after the Ovechkin knee. Will that matter? Hard to say. But the perception - that the league has one set of rules for its stars and another for its fringe players - is deeply engrained in the public psyche.

It makes for an interesting day down at the league's hockey operations department - deciding how many games, if any, a former MVP gets for kneeing; and then wondering if it's time to forge a new supplementary discipline path to let Ballard and the rest of the league know that two-handed stick swing is unacceptable conduct in the NHL, even if the act was unintentional and the target was a luckless teammate.

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Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek


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