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Braden Holtby

I didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the whole Ray Emery chasing/jumping/attemptedmurdering Braden Holtby thing over the weekend, but with the news that the League may make a change (I’ll get to that farther down), I figure it’s probably time.

Yesterday the Phoenix Coyotes’ goalie coach Sean Burke gave an interview where he weighed in on the actions of Philly’s notoriously “tough” goalie (amateur boxer, yada yada yada), and I liked what he had to say. It’d be an understatement to say he wasn’t a huge fan:

“Holtby had a shutout going and he could have been injured. He’s a Team Canada candidate. Maybe not a favorite, but he’s playing for a lot right now, and that was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough.”

No, no it is most certainly not.

I also liked:

“Anybody defending Emery’s actions by saying Holtby’s at fault in any way — that’s just archaic. How would people have felt if Holtby had taken his stick and two-handed Ray Emery? Would that have been justifiable to protect himself? What can you do? What are you allowed to do to defend yourself against a guy against whom you’re overmatched?”

Ab-so-lutely. You’re borderline helpless. I’m sure a few people have proudly trotted out “what they would’ve done,” but in reality Holtby’s options were basically: look soft and try to skate away from Emery (I’m sure that highlight would hardly get played on loop for all eternity), smack him with his stick (brain damage, suspensions, not a lot of great outcomes there), or turtle/semi-turtle, which he basically did, which involves letting someone use your thinking machine like a knuckles-only bongo drum.

(Little reactionary tangent here, but goddamn, Emery, what was that even about? It felt like a pure matter of circumstance: Hey, fighting is basically allowed in this setting, I’m having a tough day at the office, and I’m 0% afraid of getting beat-up by some untrained fighter, so I might as well go beat that guy up and make the fans love me more. What I especially don’t get, is once Holtby is clearly like “fine, f***, I guess this is happening regardless,” can you let him get set and have a fair go instead of tossing him around like a broken yo-yo? You’re a hero, buddy.)

Anyway, what Emery did was macho bulls**t, unnecessary and indefensible. I understand the League’s desire to minimize situations like that.

My Dad used to talk about the fear of bench-clearing brawls in the ’70s and ’80s, and how when you started losing, you lost for a long time. You just had to hope that the guy you were paired up with was human enough to not punch you to death. There was usually a respect there, but there wasn’t often enough that the league outlawed the behaviour by making the suspension for leaving the bench just too big to stomach in the huge majority of instances. The clamouring now is to push stuff like what Ray Emery did out with more league legislation.

Specifically, the word is that the league is considering a mandatory 10-game suspension for any goalie who leaves the zone to fight.

That would put it on par with a player leaving the bench illegally for the same purpose (or any purpose), which is pretty extreme but not too ridiculous.

Still, I’m not entirely sold on the idea. I’m sold on suspending the hell out of Emery, because “we don’t have a rule for that” is kind of garbage when something as easy as “intent to injure” exists to lean on. However you define it, this is a man punching an unwilling combatant in the brain-casing, so it’s not a stretch to say his intent wasn’t to coordinate a joint pottery lesson on the weekend.

But I say I’m not entirely sold on a mandatory 10 game suspension because goaltenders are on the ice, in the action, and allowed the same frustrations as every other player. When a guy jumps off the bench, he’s given his team a numbers advantage, and someone already involved with a player could find themselves simply outnumbered and in some real danger. But maybe a goalie’s been chirped at and run all night, maybe he’s been jawing with the opposing goalie during timeouts, and maybe they agree that they would prefer if the other guy’s nose were less intact. If you’re okay with fighting as the League implicitly is, whatever, who’s to say they shouldn’t be afforded the same privilege as skaters? (If you’re not pro-fighting, this whole thing is moot anyway.)

Goalies have (almost) always stood at the red line and waited for confirmation that yes, that other man would like to punch your face as well, you may engage. Just skating down the length of the rink and going all Patrick Roy’s son never seemed to be a part of the pre-punch respect others have been afforded. Ray Emery embarrassed himself. It’s not like there’s some epidemic of goaltender-on-goaltender crime in the league that needs to immediately be eliminated.

So maybe they decide this is going to be a suspendible play. Maybe they go all-in, or maybe they decide to walk it back from 10 to a couple games so really, really mad dudes can deem it, as an Icelandic hockey player once said in Mighty Ducks, “well worth it.” Whatever they decide to do with goalie fights, I’ll get on with my day just fine because it’s a rare circumstance that doesn’t really affect the game. But if they really want to hit a homerun here, they’ll take my suggestion:

FIGHT ZONE.

Just own it, NHL. If both goalies agree to cross the blue into the neutral zone, permission has been given. The gesture can be akin to signing a waiver. This idea can’t lose. Paint FIGHT ZONE across center ice, too.

(And maybe make sumo suits mandatory. I dunno. Just spitballin’ here.)

I’m kidding of course. But whatever they decide to do, it really isn’t going to be an easy call. I don’t think goalie fights should be on par with a guy jumping the bench to fight, but I can’t see them doing nothing after this either. Stay tuned.