Unless you’re of the mind that a guy making $2.5 million this season is going to miss the $2,500 he has to hand over to the NHL, then Carolina Hurricanes winger Scott Walker might as well have been love tapped by his slash-happy teammate Jussi Jokinen for his sucker punch of Boston defenseman Aaron Ward at the end of the Bruins’ 4-0 win in Game 5 last night.
Walker today was fined just $2,500 for his actions, and the league rescinded the suspension that’s supposed to be automatic once a player is assessed a 10-minute misconduct for instigating in the final five minutes of any game (let alone a pivotal playoff contest).
Oh sure, little Cooper and Anna Walker might see one less video game under the Christmas tree this December (and there definitely won’t be any ponies). But the tots are the only ones not named Ward or Bruins that are going to suffer here. The ‘Canes, one home win away from closing out this Eastern Conference semifinal series tomorrow night at RBC Center, don’t have to alter their lineup. They don’t even have to alter the way they play, as the league has now granted its blessing for sucker punches to the face and slashes from behind to an opponent’s ankles (see Jokinen vs. Zdeno Chara).
Meanwhile, we await word on Ward’s condition. He might come out of this all right and be able to play — with or without a cage. Or he could be seriously injured and out of the Bruins’ lineup for some time. But, as usual, that’s not even the point. Whether Ward’s eye was chilling on the ice after the blow or swollen up to grapefruit size, the point should be intent to injure not the actual result. The NHL, of course, doesn’t see it this way. Frankly, I don’t even understand why the league opted to fine Walker. Colin Campbell and his merry band of discipline distributors really should have handed Walker a $2,500 bonus instead of a fine. With such a light punishment, they’re basically encouraging this sort of behavior anyway.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien wasn’t in the mood today to draw comparisons, so I’ll take that baton and run with it. Milan Lucic was suspended for one game in the Montreal series when Canadiens agitator and expert cheap-shot artist Maxim Lapierre took a run at the Bruins winger and Lucic put up his arms to defend himself. Lucic’s mistake was not dropping his stick.
Now Walker squares off with Ward and socks him while the defenseman, who did not receive a single fighting major all season and only averaged one per season for the eight years prior to this, is still wearing his gloves and holding his stick. The damage was severe enough that not only did Ward have to be examined last night and re-examined this morning, but he hasn’t been allowed to participate in his second-favorite vocation after playing hockey — addressing the media.
This is what passes for justice in the NHL in 2009. It’s a sorry state of affairs, unless you’re the league hoping to get some ink and air time on the evening sports reports. While the talking heads debate and the writers pound out columns like this one, the NHL relishes the attention. It obviously isn’t as concerned with the players’ well being. And an “eye for an eye” might be the only way to get any real satisfaction.