Should coaches be more accountable?
October, 24, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
It’s a guarantee John Scott will be suspended, but just for how many games will depend on how ugly the NHL feels his hit to the head on Loui Eriksson was in Wednesday night's game.
A closer look at the video and it’s not clear whether the hit was actually late nor was it really an elbow, but definitely it was an illegal check to the head, the kind the league absolutely wants to outlaw in the game.
Eriksson had to be helped off the ice and spent the night in a Buffalo hospital.
There is just no place in the game for this kind of hit. Zero.
And given the history between these teams, dating back to two years ago when Milan Lucic bowled over Ryan Miller, the acquisition of Scott the following summer a direct response to that, there’s certainly context to keep in mind here. Not to mention the time of the game, about a minute and a half after Boston took a 4-2 lead in the third period, when Scott went out and nailed Eriksson.
Further to that, it should be noted that while Scott got away without any further punishment for his role in the preseason mini-brawl in Toronto, one that cost the Leafs' David Clarkson a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench after Scott went after star winger Phil Kessel, keep in mind that NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan did nevertheless deliver a warning to the Sabres tough guy in a phone call; the kind of call in which you point out that while there was nothing really Scott could be suspended for, it was duly noted in everyone’s mind that he triggered the whole thing.
It should be said, though, that Scott has never before been suspended in the NHL. That certainly counts for something.
In the bigger picture, the latest incident involving the Sabres begs another question, one that is beginning to gather more steam around the league: Where is the responsibility of the head coach or the team in all this? Sabres head coach Ron Rolston was fined for putting Scott back out during that preseason game in Toronto. Since then, he’s had Patrick Kaleta suspended 10 games, followed by Scott’s head hit, which will result in a suspension.
The NHL is trying hard with these suspensions to curb player behavior, but do coaches’ behaviors also need reshaping?
TSN colleague Bob McKenzie pointed out during our Insider Trading segment Tuesday a quote from Canucks head coach John Tortorella regarding Alexander Edler's three-game suspension earlier this season for a hit on San Jose's Tomas Hertl: "I would teach that play to all our defencemen. The one he was suspended on we're teaching that. The league just happens to believe it's suspendable," Tororella was quoted as saying last week in the Vancouver Province.
So what is Edler supposed to do next time he’s got a player lined up the same way -- what his coach says, or what the NHL has warned him not to do again?
I’m not suggesting automatic fines for coaches every time a player is suspended; that’s unrealistic and unfair for all kinds of reasons, including the fact there are just times when a coach has no control over what an angry player might do out on the ice. But I would suggest some kind of threshold perhaps where if a team shows repeated trends with 2-3 suspensions within a certain time period, that perhaps something should be done.
Which is similar in spirit to what Mario Lemieux had in mind when in March 2011 the Penguins co-owner wrote a letter to commissioner Gary Bettman suggesting team fines for suspensions to repeat offenders. It’s an idea that the NHL talked about at the time in some form, but in the end it never materialized.
Rolston has now had three major incidents on his hands this season: the preseason events in Toronto, the Kaleta suspension and now the incoming Scott suspension.
Should he or the team not be held accountable? Just asking the question.