This Flyers’ season has all the warning signs of becoming a hellish, merciless trek to the end, with Jay Rosehill and Kris Newbury continually making appearances (nothing personal, as I know they’re both approximately 1,394 times the hockey player I’ll ever be) and each game night’s posing the question of “Will we need our goalie to let up less than zero goals in order to win?”
And then, adding to the misery, there was last week when the Washington Capitals, led by the rushing attack of Aaron Ward, put up a touchdown against the seemingly hapless Flyers. I say seemingly because of the line brawl we’re all familiar with at this point, which started after the Caps converted the PAT and was the only spark of life from an otherwise dead team. In this line brawl, Ray Emery skated down the ice and, depending on your slant, beat the crap out of / assaulted an unsuspecting Brayden Holtby.
In terms of analogies, this fight seems to be the Frodo of hockey fights, andthe hockey community is the Eye of Sauron. Many fights have come before, but something magical drew the attention of the collective NHL world, including Gary Bettman (who I liken to an orc, for reference).
The reaction has been swift, confusing and arbitrary in my view. Bettman has stated that the NHL will look into ten-game suspensions for goalie fights, as “[t]here was no rule that was violated to elevate things to the level of a suspension.” What Bettman is saying here is that the fight was bad, but no more so than other fights which involved a guy who didn’t really want to fight, so their hands were tied.
Something struck me as odd about this. After a lot of head scratching (no lice, don’t worry), I went to the NHL’s internet home. Looking through the rulebook, I stumbled onto rule 27.6, which specifically discusses leaving the crease to join an altercation. For your convenience, the entire text of the rule can be found below:
27.6 Leaving Goal Crease – A minor penalty shall be imposed on a goalkeeper who leaves the immediate vicinity of his crease during an altercation. In addition, he shall be subject to a fine of two hundred dollars ($200) and this incident shall be reported to the Commissioner for such further disciplinary action as may be required. However, should the altercation occur in or near the goalkeeper’s crease, the Referee should direct the goalkeeper to a neutral location and not assess a penalty for leaving the immediate vicinity of the goal crease. Equally, if the goalkeeper is legitimately outside the immediate vicinity of the goal crease for the purpose of proceeding to the players’ bench to be substituted for an extra attacker, and he subsequently becomes involved in an altercation, the minor penalty for leaving the crease would not be assessed.
In addition, during stoppages of play in the game, he must not proceed to his players’ bench for the purpose of receiving a replacement stick or equipment or repairs thereto, or due to an injury, or to receive instructions, without first obtaining permission to do so from the Referee. Otherwise, he must be replaced by the substitute goalkeeper immediately (without any delay) or be assessed a bench minor penalty for delay of game.
The emphasis was mine, just to make sure that the second sentence didn’t escape view again. Honestly, what seems odd to me is that Emery’s actions were bad enough to warrant a new rule, but Shanahan could not punish a player who already received a game misconduct while his opponent didn’t, because the actions weren’t bad enough to call him an Aggressor and warrant special discipline.
Okay, so rulebook aside, the point still remains that Emery did something egregious and people are at arms about it: He fought a guy who sort of didn’t want to fight.
Yes, sort of didn’t want to.
I know this will draw the ire of some people, but if you don’t want to fight, you don’t swipe at Emery like Holtby did after you’ve just said you don’t want to fight. I know it’s a bit of overanalysis here, but at the 36 second mark below, you see Emery lunge at Holtby, who then defends himself and then swipes back at Emery. The ref was already engaged at this point, and I believe that had Holtby not half-engaged, the fight would’ve stopped there.
So, Holtby did or didn’t engage. That’s not the point, some will argue. The point is that Emery raced down the ice and started a fight with Holtby, which we never see, or, at least that’s my understanding based on the reactions I’ve read. I take issue with deciding that this goalie fight thing is suddenly an issue now. I would argue that Emery is not even the first to do something like this in this NHL season. If you look back a mere two months ago, Jonathan Bernier of the Maple Leafs raced down the ice and engaged Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres in a fight that Miller didn’t look like he wanted any part of. Starting at the 2:48 mark and reading body language, you can see that Miller even turns his palms up as if to say “What are we doing?”
The major difference here is, in my humble opinion, is that Emery is better at fighting, so his actions looked worse when judged on consequences. I would argue, however, that both Bernier and Emery were guilty of the same actions. This fight went unnoticed by the Eye.
I maintain that the reaction from the league and people on the periphery has been a little ridiculous. Punish Emery if it was really that bad, or leave it be if it wasn’t, but don’t arbitrarily create a rule to solve a “problem” such as this. Sometimes, goalies do need to engage in a fight. If there’s a fight near the crease and goalie A jumps in, goalie B had better get his ass down the ice and defend his teammates. That said, Emery’s situation was not such, and I’m not a big advocate of fighting for no reason. I really don’t believe Emery needed to do what he did, despite how awesome it is to bro out out over a sweet line brawl. The head injuries alone make it a bad idea, let alone the fact that you’re losing 7-0. Still, it’s not some new epidemic requiring drastic and immediate intervention.
What this all comes down to for me is a issue of reputation creating an overblown reaction. Ray Emery has fought before and was good at it then, too, fighting heavyweight Andrew Peters of the Buffalo Sabres. He also plays for the Philadelphia Flyers, who appear to still be perceived as a goon-it-up bunch of ragamuffins who will fight over any slight, perceived or real. Coupling these two items with the fact that Emery got the third star of the game while stopping only 11 out of 15 shots is an apparent recipe for controversy, and some apparent indignation.