By Ian Pattison
SURPRISED that Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele wasn’t suspended for the remainder of the playoffs? Don’t be. Why? Because the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is a joke.
Scheifele was already in a bad mood when he went after Canadiens’ forward Jake Evans Wednesday in Game 1 of the second round of the North Division playoff series to decide who will represent Canada in the semi-finals.
The Habs had scored on their first shot on Jets’ netminder Connor Hellebuyck who, by all accounts, was supposed to be Carey Price’s equal. Things went downhill from there as Montreal outskated and kept outscoring Winnipeg.
A frustrated Scheifele had been involved in several scrums and been assessed a roughing penalty when Evans snagged the puck late in the third period and raced toward Winnipeg’s empty net. Scheifele took off after him.
Just as Evans scored a wrap-around goal, Scheifele launched his six-foot-three, 207-pound frame full-speed at Evans who collapsed like dead weight. The 500 fans invited into Bell MTS Place fell silent, and no wonder. All of them were medical personnel who knew instantly how serious this looked.
The hit was vicious. Watching Evans flop around in a daze was sickening. It was a high hit intended not simply to knock Evans off the puck but to inflict as much harm as possible.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice called it a “clean” hit. Come on. Doesn’t there come a time when your duty to defend your players comes second to the need to acknowledge the reality of what we all saw?
Eventually, Evans was carted off on a stretcher and is out indefinitely with a concussion.
Scheifele was given a five-minute major penalty for charging and a 10-minute misconduct. He glanced over his shoulder as he headed to the dressing room and the look on his face said, “Oh-oh, what did I just do?”
Too late for second thoughts. You’re headed for serious consequences. But wait. The guy in charge of deciding your fate is a fellow by the name of George Parros.
The head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety since 2016 is himself a former “enforcer” who took boxing lessons to become a better fighter after he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1999, where he led all players in major penalties. Traded to Ahaheim he scored a single goal in the 2006-07 season but amassed 18 fighting majors.
Then he was traded to Montreal where he suffered a series of concussions in violent fisticuffs that led to a renewed debate about the place of fighting in the NHL.
Clearly, the debate went nowhere as fighting and hits intended to hurt remain a part of the game. But as the game gets faster, the hits become harder. It is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt so badly that the league will finally be forced to reckon with its sanction of violence.
Parros has said he is the right man to be in charge of player safety because “I’ve played the game for a long time and played as physical as anybody else, perhaps more so, and never once got fined or suspended. I feel that if anybody out there knows how to walk the line, it’s me.”
So, no thought to reducing the violence, only to keep it just under the point of something horrible.
When Parros’ office announced it would call Scheifele on the phone the day after the game, you knew the most he would get was a five-game suspension. More than that and he’d get called into the office. In fact, Parros is keeping Scheifele out for just four games. Which means he could be back for the final two games against Montreal if the series goes to seven games. Isn’t that just inviting more and bigger trouble?
“Yeah, it was a dirty hit but the league’s going to take care of it,” said Canadiens defenceman Joel Edmundson. “If he gets back in the series we’re going to make his life miserable, but I think the league’s going to do a good job with that.”
Not this time, though commissioner Gary Bettman has shown that he is capable of doing something right. It’s been reported that he stepped in to ensure Washington Capitals’ goon Tom Wilson was given more than a fine in March after a concussion-causing high hit on Boston Bruins defenceman Brandon Carlo.
Parros had his lenient way with Wilson less than two months later when he decided a $5,000 fine was sufficient for his after-the-whistle thuggery in a May 3 game against the New York Rangers. Wilson was condemned by coaches, players, fans and the media after he pulled Pavedl Buchnevich to the ice, then held him face down with his stick on his neck while repeatedly punching him in the back of the head. Then he threw a helmetless Artemi Panarin to the ice twice, once by his hair, putting him out for the season.
To put the $5,000 fine in perspective, Wilson makes $5 million a year.
The outcry that followed included an unprecedented statement from the Rangers calling Parros “unfit” and calling for his removal.
In the main, Bettman and the league condone the violence that some people watch the games to see. What does it say about us as fans, that there are some who anticipate, enjoy, even glorify the violence while others detest it?
Canadiens’ defenceman Jeff Petry insisted — before the paltry four-game suspension — that the team is not focusing on retribution against Scheifele but continuing to play the same way that has made them successful in the playoffs.
“Obviously we all know what happened . . . and the best way to get back at them for that is to win the series,” said Petry.
For Habs fans, that will be the best ending. For Scheifele, fans of talent over thuggery can only hope that his slow burn goes out over a summer on the golf course.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.