Headshots and fighting have been hot-button topics in the National Hockey League for the past few years.
This debate has also led to a discussion about the role of the “goon” in the new NHL. Is there a place for such a player anymore or should there be stiffer penalties to essentially eliminate this type of player from the league?
To me, the traditional role of the “goon” is all but extinct. The game has changed in such a way where you actually have to have some shred of skill to play at this level. The old-school goons who could barely stand on their skates are mostly out of the league.
I say “mostly” because at least one team still seems to see some value in having a guy in their organization that can do little more than throw punches or engage in other shenanigans.
That team is the Buffalo Sabres.
That player is John Scott.
That player has no business being in the National Hockey League.
Last night, with his club down 4-2 against the Boston Bruins in the third period, Scott hopped over the boards for his next shift. This was the first problem with what would soon transpire.
Here’s some history on Scott:
First of all, he’s a big boy. He checks in at 6-feet-8-inches tall and weighs 259 pounds. He’s played 187 games in the National Hockey League since his debut during the 2008-09 season. Scott has one goal and four assists in that span to go along with his 319 penalty minutes.
In case you’re unfamiliar with his work, here’s a link to his career fight card.
Oh, and then there was the whole fiasco where Scott set off a line brawl by trying to attack Phil Kessel of the Maple Leafs immediately following a faceoff. Watch for yourself.
Did I mention that happened during a preseason game last month?
Getting back to last night, the second Scott takes the ice in this situation you have to know something is coming. Why else is he out there? He’s not going to magically turn into Sidney Crosby, put the team on his back and start lighting the lamp at will.
What Scott did was drill Boston’s Loui Eriksson in the head well after he had passed the puck up ice. It was nothing less than a blind side cheapshot on a defenseless player. Eriksson had to be helped off the ice by his teammates and spent the night in a Buffalo hospital. Click here for the replay.
Are you proud of yourself Mr. Scott?
I’m sure Scott will come out in the media in the coming days and sincerely say something to the effect of, “It wasn’t my intention to injure him. I don’t go out there looking to injure someone. I’m sorry for my actions and wish him a speedy recovery.”
(Update: Per an NHL.com article The exact quote was, “I kind of feel really upset,” he said, noting that he texted an apology to Eriksson. “I was sick to my stomach last night knowing what happened. And watching the video, I kind of regret the whole situation.”)
But, that’s not the point.
There appears to be no question as to why he was sent over the boards. The clear explanation is that he went out looking to deliver a message to the Bruins.
But, if you’re head coach Ron Rolston or Scott, what kind of message are you trying to send?
The Sabres are 1-9-1 following last night’s loss to the Bruins. Was the message supposed to be, “Hey now, you may beat us, but we’re still a tough team to play against?”
Maybe it was, “If you beat us, we’re going to send one of your skill players to the hospital.”
Or better yet, “We’re going to star in the next installment in the ‘Slapshot’ movie franchise. Buckle up NHL.”
I have no problem whatsoever with physical players. This is hockey. It’s a contact sport. By default, there are going to be big hits and tensions will boil over and fights will break out.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Staged fights and a need to defend oneself for a big, clean hit is a problem, but spur of the moment or heat of battle fights happen.
What happened last night in Buffalo was a black eye on the Sabres’ franchise.
Scott should be facing an incredibly steep penalty for his actions last night. If the league is serious about cutting down on headshots, they’ll deliver a harsh penalty to set the tone for the rest of the league.
Rolston should also face some punishment for his role in this as well. After all, it was his decision to put Scott on the ice at that juncture.
Here’s to hoping the league and the Sabres do the right thing with this goon.
(Update: Per the NHL.com story, Scott has been suspended indefinitely pending a disciplinary hearing with the league.)
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