The Sutton Sheet

Okay, so Brashear will miss the next three games and Sutherby the next one. Eric Fehr is en route from Hershey and he will be in the lineup against Toronto on Friday.

Having a look at the rule book after last night’s Atlanta-Washington tilt, I figured that today’s suspensions might not be as cut and dried as those listed in section 47.22, the area of the book that deals with fines and suspensions when an instigator penalty occurs in the final five minutes of regulation or anytime in overtime of an NHL game. Here’s what it says:

“A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime, shall automatically be suspended for one game. The Director of Hockey Operations will review every such incident and may recind [sic] the suspension based on a number of criteria. The criteria for the review shall include, but not [be] limited to, the score, previoius [sic] incidents, etc. The length of suspension will double for each subsequent offense. This suspension shall be served in addition to any other automatic suspensions a player may incur for an accumulation of three or more instigator penalties.

When the one-game suspension is imposed, the player or goalkeeper’s Coach shall be fined $10,000 — a fine that will double for each subsequent incident.

No team appeals will be permitted either verbally or in writing regarding the assessment of this automatic suspension.”

I took some degree of hope from that portion that I bolded. Colin Campbell, who serves as said Director of Hockey Operations, is the guy who makes the call and this time he went strictly by the book. That has not always been the case.

Check out this link, which contains the details and extensive quotes from Campbell on his thought process in not suspending Phoenix winger Shane Doan and Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky after a similar incident last season. I don’t disagree with Campbell’s ruling in that case, but I’ll admit that I hoped he might have looked at this one a bit closer.

Given the tenor of the rule and its application, I don’t think there can be any surprise that Donald Brashear was suspended. I thought Brian Sutherby and Scott Mellanby might have their suspensions looked at a bit more closely, based on this quote from Campbell, again from the above link:

“The key to the whole rule was that it would be automatic – no appeal by the team. But I would review every instigator in the last five minutes to see if it would pass the litmus test.

“And that would be, is this guy a two-shift guy who was out to send a message? Was it a tough guy doing his thing and leaving his calling card?

“Obviously, when you’re talking about Doan, he played the most minutes in the game, you’re not sending him out to send a message. So I’m going to assess each and every one when it happens.”

Neither Sutherby nor Mellanby are “two-shift guys[s] out to send a message.” Although if you look at the shift chart, it does reflect that Sutherby’s instigator penalty came on his first shift of the third period. Campbell might have been inclined to look at that and Sutherby’s ice time for the game (9:06) and to lay down judgment accordingly. If he had delved a bit further (and I understand that a system that requires quick justice may not permit his doing so), he would see that Sutherby entered the game with an average of 15:53 per night in ice time. That’s more than Mellanby’s 15:11 and more than Brad Larsen’s 10:47 (Larsen was the Thrasher who fought with Sutherby). Aside from last night, Sutherby’s lowest single-game ice time total was 13:22, on Oct. 30 in Calgary.

So why didn’t Sutherby skate in the third period until late in the third? Did he commit an egregious defensive miscue which led to his being benched? Unlikely, since he was not on the ice for any of the four goals Washington allowed.

Was he hurt? Possible, although the Capitals insist he was not. He definitely took an Ilya Kovalchuk slapshot to the lower body in the first period of Wednesday’s game, and that may have left him a bit dinged. He played 4:24 in the first and 4:38 in the second. He did not practice on Thursday with his teammates; the Caps gave him the day off for “rest.” We’re left to draw our own conclusions. Having seen virtually every one of Sutherby’s 200-plus NHL games and a lot of the ones he played in the AHL too, I don’t have to think too long.

The rulebook is a bit vague, and maybe that’s intentional. The area of “… previoius [sic] incidents, etc.” could be interpreted to include the infamous Eddie Shore “check” on King Clancy that occurred on Dec. 12, 1933. What it apparently does not include is previous incidents on the rap sheet of the guy who started the whole kerfuffle.

That would be Atlanta defenseman Andy Sutton. Now in his eighth season in the league, Sutton played in his 400th NHL game last night. So congratulations to him; I believe he now qualifies for the league’s pension plan. He is a good NHL defenseman; he has averaged better than 20 minutes a night over the last couple seasons and was averaging 22:09 a night this season prior to last night’s game. With the Thrashers short three defensemen and with some green rookies in their lineup, Sutton stepped up for his team, playing a season-high 29:02 against the Caps on Wendesday. He had an assist, played on the power play, blocked three shots and was a plus-1 on the night. He also touched off a tempest.

With Atlanta enjoying a two-goal lead and a power play advantage, and with less than two minutes remaining, the outcome of the game was all but decided. Normally, Sutton wouldn’t even be out on the Atlanta power play. But the Thrashers were without Steve McCarthy and Niclas Havelid, their two most frequently deployed defensemen on the power play (forward Ilya Kovalchuk plays the power play point for the Thrashers, and he sometimes stays out for nearly the entire two minutes). As a result, Sutton logged 4:37 of extra-man time in the game, as compared to his prior average of just 25 seconds a contest.

Caps defenseman Mike Green was carrying the puck through the neutral zone, and Sutton lined him up. He came hard at Green at the Atlanta blueline, but the young Caps blueliner eluded the brunt of the check. Sutton lunged for Green with his elbows and stick both up high, leaving little doubt as to his intent.

You know the rest. Ten fighting majors, seven game misconducts, three instigator penalties. Going into last night’s game, the Caps had taken three fighting majors in their first 20 games of the season. They matched that total on the shift after Sutton’s shenanigans, when Brashear, John Erskine and Matt Bradley all dropped the gloves.

It was Sutton’s hit (some would say “intended” hit) that sparked the whole thing but there are no fines or suspensions headed his way. Hard to suspend a guy for “almost” taking someone’s head off, I agree. But what about fining a guy with a lengthy history of this sort of thing? Or showing some understanding and leniency to a coach who might understandably be frustrated with the repeat frequency of this sort of thing against his team and other teams around the league?

Glen Hanlon got fined $10,000 for Brashear’s instigator penalty, and an additional $20,000 for Sutherby’s, for a grand total of $30,000. Hanlon took over as Washington’s head coach on Dec. 10, 2003. The Caps played in Atlanta on Dec. 16, 2003, Hanlon’s third game as the team’s bench boss. Washington won that game, 5-0. With 1:12 remaining and his team down five goals, Sutton incurred the rare triple-minor. He got two for cross-checking and four for roughing.

There’s more.

In the most celebrated Sutton incident, he received a 10-minute misconduct for attempt to injure in an Oct. 14, 2005 game against Toronto. That infraction came at 9:57 of the third period with the Thrashers trailing 6-1. They went on to lose, 9-1. Campbell suspended Sutton for four games for that one. A week earlier, he got a roughing minor at 16:18 of the third while his team led 7-1 in what became an 8-1 rout over Washington.

On Jan. 7, 2006 against Pittsburgh, he got a 10-minute misconduct at 19:58 of the third period. On Jan. 26 against Carolina, Sutton was given a roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct at 17:13 of the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Canes. On Mar. 25, he received an elbowing minor at 18:14 of the third period of a 5-1 loss to the Islanders. On April 13, he was given a two-minute minor for elbowing Ivan Majesky (and probably should have gotten a misconduct for attempt to injure) with seven seconds remaining in a 5-3 Atlanta win over Washington. Just 11 days before last night’s game, Sutton got a five-minute slashing major and a 10-minute misconduct at 10:58 of the third period of a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay.

Detect any patterns there? Maybe he’s hanging out with the wrong crowd. Jim Slater for goaltender interference (he did that once against Olie Kolzig and got a face full of mitt for his troubles) with Atlanta leading 5-0 over Florida on Oct. 7 of this season. Slater for boarding in the same game after the score reached 6-0.

Garnet Exelby for cross-checking and high-sticking with Atlanta leading Boston 3-1 in what would become a 4-1 win on Oct. 11. Larsen two for boarding at 13:38 of the third with Atlanta losing 4-2 against the Canes on Nov. 3. With Atlanta down 5-2 in the final minute of the same game, Mellanby gets a 10-minute misconduct and Exelby a two-minute charging minor. Who did Exelby charge? Carolina goaltender Cam Ward. Exelby has two goals in 179 NHL games. He probably needed a GPS to find the opposing team’s crease.

In their most recent game before visiting Washington on Wednesday, the Thrashers were in Montreal. It was a tight 2-1 game until Radek Bonk gave the Habs some breathing room with an empty-netter at 18:46. That’s when the Thrashers start to get loose, when a tight game isn’t so tight any more. Watch them. They take hooking and holding penalties in tight games. They take slashing, boarding, charging and goaltender interference calls once the game is more or less settled. That was the case on Saturday. Bobby Holik for goaltender interference at 19:32 of the third.

“Even with the fourth goal, there was still plenty of time for us to come back and win this game,” says Caps captain Chris Clark, of the game situation when the Sutton incident occurred. “It wasn’t until the big hit there from Sutton. He is a big hitter and that’s fine. But Greenie made a great move to get around him and he throws his elbows, stick, everything to try to get a piece of him. He knows something is going to happen if he does something like that. He’d probably be the first to say, ‘If I do that, guys are going to come after me.’ That’s what happened. Our guys are going to stick up for each other. That would have happened if it was a one-goal game.”

True, but history shows that Sutton and his mates likely wouldn’t have even tried that stuff in a one-goal game. Thrashers coach Bob Hartley feigns innocence and astonishment at this sort of thing, but the Freedom of Information Act (well, the availability of box scores and games on television, anyway) exposes that charade.

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16 Comments on “The Sutton Sheet”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Mike,

    Great work on the Sutton rap sheet. One of the items floating on Message Boards and Blogs is the questioning of Atlanta’s reputation as goons. I believe this is a mis-representation – the real issue is their lack of sportsmanship, something that the Capitals display in spades. When you look at all of these incidents after games are decided one way or the other and add in Kovalchuk’s antics, without even knowing what is said between players on the ice, you can understand how opponents would take exception. Furthermore, the change in calls after the 1st period in the most recent home games against Carolina and Atlanta when Laviollete and Hartley spent extensive time prior to the start of the 2nd period lobbying the officials, it just adds to the frustration factor of a team like the Capitals that plays the game hard but honest. If you could get some reaction from the players in regard to these items, I’m sure the fan base would be greatly interested.

  2. TJ Says:

    Nice research mike, its too bad the NHL offices can’t do the same.

  3. Antix Says:

    Great work, Mike. Nice to see. Now if only some ignorant Thrashers fans would read this article and shed some light on their shadowed opinions. It’s ridiculous how stupid some of them are.

  4. Absaraka Says:

    Wow, looks like somebody did their homework over the holiday. PLEASE tell me you got to eat at least SOME turkey today, Mike.

  5. anonymous Says:

    Given Sutton’s track record (and that of the Thrashers as a whole), how do you think the league will handle the inevitable list of penalties coming up in their next match?

  6. Josh Says:

    Why does the league not do anything about this? It’s obvious that this is a trademark of Hartley coached teams, they always have a rep for being masters of stickwork. Do they truly not care because it’s harder for the casual fan to pick out than the fights where play stops? Great research.

  7. Joe Says:

    This is just another classic example of the Caps getting the shaft. What do the NHL officials (on and off the ice) have against the Caps? If Barry Melrose can point out that Hartly coached teams have this tendency, why can’t the NHL see it? Another example is that Ovechkin can get kneed twice in the past month and no calls were made. Doesn’t the NHL realize he is thier future? If that had been Crosby you can bet the call would have been made.

  8. anonymous Says:

    Mike-

    Is your hair long or short now?

  9. GB Says:

    Mike – What’s the phrase – lies, damn lies, and statistics? Let’s have a look at some of your research:

    1. You say “A week earlier, he got a roughing minor at 16:18 of the third while his team led 7-1 in what became an 8-1 rout over Washington.”

    Do you even remember the name Stephen Peat? That’s who Sutton fought at 16:18 of that game. Said Mr. Peat played 1! game with the Caps that season – yep, that game, and he has not been seen in DC since. In 130 games played at all levels, he has 234 penalty minutes. So I guess Sutton does not get to defend himself when a Stephen Peat has a run at him in a lost cause? It seems to me that you have just condemned Sutton for similar infractions – and now all of a sudden he is the bad guy here? Sorry – that one doesn’t work.

    2. You say “On Jan. 7, 2006 against Pittsburgh, he got a 10-minute misconduct at 19:58 of the third period”.

    A matching 10-min was handed out to Maxime Talbot of the Pens – who lost that game 4-3. Doesn’t sound like much of a case there either.

    3. You say “On Jan. 26 against Carolina, Sutton was given a roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct at 17:13 of the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Canes.”

    Marian Hossa, who had been cross-checked and slashed all night by Oleg Tverdovsky of the Canes, finally had enough at 17:13 of that period and took on Tverdovsky mano-a-mano. Sutton defended his star player, and let Hossa and Tverdosvksy settle their differences, when he saved Hossa from an attack from behind by Andrew Ladd by horse-collaring Ladd, who’s a rather big boy himself, and putting him rather gently to the ice. I was 8 rows from the action, and still don’t understand where the 10 min cames from. But if all you read are the stats, that’s all you’ll get, eh?

    4. You say “On Mar. 25, he received an elbowing minor at 18:14 of the third period of a 5-1 loss to the Islanders.”

    Your honor, the prosecution neglects to mention that the elbow was in response to a flagrant cross-check by Jason Blake of the Isles. Case dismissed.

    5. On April 13, he was given a two-minute minor for elbowing Ivan Majesky (and probably should have gotten a misconduct for attempt to injure) with seven seconds remaining in a 5-3 Atlanta win over Washington.

    Not a good play – one for your team. However, this could have been a plain roughing penalty, except that Sutton is several inches taller than Majesky. Still not a good thing – but not part of a pattern, as I think I am establishing here.

    6. You say “Just 11 days before last night’s game, Sutton got a five-minute slashing major and a 10-minute misconduct at 10:58 of the third period of a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay.”

    Oh my – you really ought to watch the plays you are quoting before claiming them as facts in your prosecution of Sutton. Martin St. Louis steals the puck and breaks away short-handed; Sutton is on the point on the power play. Sutton’s only play is to dive forward to try to swipe the puck off St. Louis’ stick – he misses, and hits him on the blades of the skates instead. St. Louis isn’t even slowed up, but misses the shot – and is then awarded a penalty shot. Somehow, the ref also give Sutton a 5-min major and 10 min for a clumsy attempt at stopping the break-away shot – if you were able to see the play, I have NO doubt that you would agree that there was no intent to injure.

    Here is the funniest thing – I think Sutton is our worst defenseman. I would love for someone to take him off our hands – I am not at all a fan of Andy Sutton. However, he does not deserve to be crucified on flimsy evidence such as you have presented. Case closed.

  10. Scott Sutton Says:

    my last name is sutton, but i say: “DOWN WITH SUTTON!!!!!”.

  11. dumpnchase Says:

    Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write a comment on this and all the other entries here. I appreciate your readership. I should probably address some of the comments made on the Andy Sutton entry.

    After the game on Wednesday, I got to thinking about some of the other games between Washington and Atlanta over the last couple seasons and some of the things that occurred. I kept coming back to Sutton as a guy who was frequently in the middle of things. I went back and did some perfunctory research, and the box scores backed up the memory.

    I watch a lot of hockey, even when I am not following the Caps. I have had the Center Ice package since 1999-00, and I rarely go to bed before the last game is over. My viewing is often skewed toward Washington’s upcoming opponents, so I see quite a bit of the teams in the Southeast. My impression of the Thrashers under Bob Hartley is that they’ve always been a team to push the envelope of what they can get away with, especially late in games.

    Admittedly, simple box score research is faulty. There is a lack of context, just to start with. And without being able to measure the other teams in the NHL and see how they stack up in this regard, it’s a very imperfect “science,” if you will.

    That said, I’ll stand by what I wrote and my previous opinion of the Thrashers and Sutton. I’ve seen enough that I really didn’t even need to go back and do the research, but a point is more effective when there is supporting evidence. I definitely believe (and I know of others in the media and players on other teams who would also concur) that the Thrashers often play one way when the game is tight and quite another when it has been more or less settled.

    Now to some of the comments in particular. As to why the league is unaware of what’s going on, it’s difficult for them to manage those types of relationships. There are 30 teams in the NHL, and 30 teams with unique (for the most part) perceptions of the other 29 teams in the loop. It would be virtually impossible for the powers that be to be aware of all of these conflagrations, although this particular one has been brewing for a while.

    As to players’ comments on officiating, you will rarely get a player willing to go on the record to criticize or even hint at criticizing the officials. That’s understandable. The refs are not perfect, but generally things even out over time. I will say that I believe that younger teams tend to get more calls against them.

    Absaraka, no turkey for me. I never touch the stuff. I did have a very nice dinner with my family though, thank you. Hope all of you did as well.

    How do I think the league will handle the inevitable list of penalties coming in the next game? I’m not so sure anything of note will happen on Dec. 15 in Atlanta. I mean, yeah, we could see another free-for-all, but my guess is it will be more business as usual. The Caps sent a message on Wednesday and I’m guessing it was received. I’d be surprised if Atlanta came looking for any retribution. But I’d continue to watch my back in the last five minutes against the Thrashers, regardless of the score.

    GB, thanks for writing. I’ll take your points one at a time, but first I’ll say this. I mostly ignored games where Sutton was involved in coincidental stuff late in games. It’s hockey, not ballet, and I’m sure we all hope it stays that way. Stuff happens and it will always happen. I still say there’s a pattern to Sutton’s behavior late in games, and I’ll rely on my eyes more than any box scores for that opinion.

    No. 1, Peat and Sutton did not fight that night. Peat did not fight at all in the NHL last season. They had coincidental minors for roughing. I noted that game because that game is where a lot of the bad blood between these two teams comes from. The Thrashers ran the Caps at every juncture in the third, and as so often happens, the Caps ended up taking more PIM in a retaliatory mode. I can tell you this. The pattern that night was the same as it is in a lot of Atlanta games. The Thrashers were the first team to take any “violent” penalties (i.e. boarding, slashing, charging, etc.) and they didn’t take the first one until they had taken a lead on the scoreboard. They also took two before the Caps took one. Hartley had his best power play guys out late in that game, blasting away from the tops of the circles and trying to run up the score. When the Thrashers did score, they celebrated blatantly, even though they were routing the Caps at the time. Sutton was one of many involved on this night, but he was certainly involved.

    No. 2. You mention that Maxime Talbot got a matching 10-minute misconduct at the same time as Sutton. Yep, that’s correct. The same Maxime Talbot who stands seven inches shorter and weighs 69 pounds less than Sutton. Thanks for helping to make the case with that one.

    No. 3. Didn’t see the game, so I will defer.

    No. 4. I saw this game, and the cross-check was actually in retaliation for the elbow, if memory serves. If you’ve got video that proves otherwise, I’ll stand corrected. Until then, I’ll stay with what I’ve got.

    No. 5. No way this is roughing, it was all elbow. Scott Stevens took like four elbowing minors in his entire career and he towered over a lot of the guys he hammered. It’s not necessary, it was flagrant and maybe you missed the point, which was this: There were seven seconds left in a two-goal game and the puck was in the neutral zone when it happened. Only a meatball with no regard for another guy’s livelihood would make that hit at that time.

    No. 6. Sounds like Sutton may have gotten a raw deal on that one. But that’s what happens sometimes when your reputation preceeds you. Guys like Sutton (and several others around the league, including some with Washington and others who formerly played for the Caps) are rarely going to get the benefit of the call and often will even be vicitimized by “reputation” calls.

    Again, thanks to everyone for writing.


  12. way to go mike, nice research

  13. GB Says:

    Mike –

    I appreciate your response. Firstly, let me say that I added some of the snide comments in my post to see whether you would answer (if at all) in a measured and reasonable way, or take the bait and answer in kind. You chose the former, and my hat is off to you – your initial post therefore carries that much more weight with me.

    Sutton is no choir boy – and he does deserve some of the reputation he is acquiring. I would be that much more vociferous in defending him if he played a better game in general, but I have already touched on that. Some of the penalties he takes are due to to poor positioning, poor foot speed, and plain clumsiness. The other, more egregious offenses are what they are, and most Thrasher fans enjoy them as little as opposing player at the receiving end, or fans of those teams.

    Having said that, indicting the Thrashers as a team is somewhat unfair. I don’t know whether the way the Thrashers play at the end of games is a systemic thing that Hartley is responsible for, or something else entirely. ‘Fringe’ players such as Vigier, Larsen, or even Boulton play every shift as hard as they can, in the fear of losing their spot on the roster, and things will happen on occassion due to overexuberance.

    Others, such as Marian Hossa, as absolute class players – and you’ll have to find me a fan of any team who thinks that Hossa comes to play dirty hockey for even a minute on any given night. Others, such as Kozlov or Rucchin, can be loosely added to this cadre.

    Then you have players with an edge, such as Holik or Kovalchuk. They are classic cases of “hate them on the other team; love them if they are on your team”. Every team has them. They play the only way they know how to play.

    All in all the Thrashers are still a Johnny-come-lately team trying to establish their credentials in this league. I would certainly argue that the incidents against the Caps last week were overblown by the inexplicable actions of your coach. The fights showed some good team spirit amongst the players of both teams – strangely it has not given the Caps any sort of lift, so I wonder how much of it was a spur of the moment thing, versus something more significant and lasting?

    Enough of the psycho-analysis – I am over the whole thing. In the meantime, there is hockey to be played and watched. Let’s Go Thrashers!


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