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.
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.