Its rare to see any legitimate highlights in the NHL preseason. Its a slew of tune-up games, where lines are shaken up and players are just trying to get their legs back under them.
So, when a preseason game between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs last Sunday included an all-out brawl between the two clubs, people tend to notice. Couple that with the rare event that is a goalie fight, this time between Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier, and you have a headline-grabbing preseason bout. It was an ugly affair, made uglier by the actions of Leafs winger Phil Kessel.
Lined up against Sabres goon John Scott, Kessel was challenged to a fight. Understandably, Kessel wanted nothing to do with it, as he’s hardly considered a fighter. Scott, though, came after him anyway. Attempting to defend himself, Kessel swung his stick at Scott to fend him off. It was a blatant slash, but the excuse of self-defense seemed to apply. However, when his fellow Toronto teammates jumped in to take out Scott, Kessel came back around and swung his stick at Scott while he was being taken down to the ice. There was no gray area with this offense, it was with ill-intent and definitely merited further discipline.
Well, today, the NHL and its chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan brought the hammer down on Kessel. If, by “bringing the hammer down,” you mean slapped on the wrist.
Shanahan deemed the act worthy of suspension, however the suspension he issued was merely banning Kessel from the final three preseason games. If their plan was to make Kessel realize the error in his ways with swift justice, they missed by a mile.
Kessel used his stick as a weapon. You don’t have to be a seasoned NHL fan to realize how astoundingly illegal and disgusting that is. He could have seriously injured Scott, as well as anyone who might have been within a few feet of him. And yet, to pay for his act, Kessel was practically given a treat in not having to take part in useless preseason games. He’ll be suiting up with the rest of his teammates for the regular season opener against the Montreal Canadiens. Are we supposed to assume he’ll have learned his punishment after serving such a weak sentence?
There’s no place for Kessel’s actions in the NHL. It was up to their disciplinary crew to make that clear with a worthy punishment. Instead, they took a page out of Kessel’s playbook; swing and a miss.