There’s a fantastic article by Sean Leahy up at Puck Daddy right now, decrying those who suggest that Florida Panthers defenceman Keith Ballard should be suspended for accidentally hitting his goaltender, Tomas Vokoun, with his stick.
The guys Leahy takes aim at are some of the most respected veterans of hockey writing; Ken Campbell of The Hockey News and The Globe & Mail’s Erik Duhatschek. Campbell argues it should make no difference whether Ballard’s reckless play injured his own teammate or an opponent, while Duhatschek says that the league needs to make it clear that “the two-handed swing is unacceptable.”
On the other side of the argument, Leahy argues that it isn’t fair for the Panthers to lose both their starting goaltender and their best defenceman on a play that had no ramifications for any other team. He’s right there. But there’s another argument that I find compelling.
Both Campbell and Duhatschek argue that the league needs to send a message here, make it clear that this sort of reckless action can be tolerated. Honestly though, I ask which of these is more likely to deter a player from carelessly swinging his stick:
A two-game suspension and a fine from the NHL. The embarrassment of injuring your own teammate and having the clip of your stupidity show up on every highlight reel for the next decade.
We all know the answer here. We can imagine how Ballard feels. We can imagine the lesson players who see that clip – and pretty much everyone in hockey has – are going to take from it. The results of the action are for more of a deterrent than any punishment the NHL could possibly hand down.
Besides which, if we extend the argument advanced by Campbell and Duhatschek to it’s logical conclusion, shouldn’t every stick swing – regardless of whether it makes contact with a player or not – warrant suspension? After all, if we’re going to imagine the stick that hit Vokoun hitting Kovalchuk instead, why not imagine every stick being swung, period, as hitting an opposing player? I think it’s nonsensical.