There are two NHL players who should be more than a little relieved today.
The first is Alex Ovechkin, who gets to play Friday night when his Washington Capitals face the Boston Bruins and saves a little more than $77,000 of his hard-earned money because the two referees working the game Wednesday night didn’t do their jobs properly. The other is Trent Frederic of the Bruins, who might want to go back and look at the tape of Ovechkin caving in Andrei Svechnikov’s face almost two years ago and thank his lucky stars that Ovechkin declined the invitation to fight him.
The sequence of events that led to Ovechkin being fined $5,000 for spearing Frederic in the privates Wednesday night was a crystal-clear example of how even the best referees in the world can be maddeningly incompetent and why many fans and players believe the participants in the game have to police it. And that’s because the league refuses to do it.
The whole thing actually started early in the third period when Frederic, a fourth-liner who currently sits 711 career goals behind Ovechkin, dangerously pushed Ovechkin from behind into the boards early in the third period. Then when Ovechkin confronted Frederic after the play, Frederic threw his gloves off and tried to fight Ovechkin. The Capitals were trailing 1-0 at the time and Ovechkin realized that sending both him and a guy who averages one goal every 18.5 games would not be a wise trade. So, of course he didn’t fight.
A double-minor to Frederic, one for boarding and another for roughing, plus a single minor to Ovechkin for his retaliation, could have gone a long way toward rectifying the situation. But referee Pierre Lambert, who watched the entire scenario unfold right in front of him, called nothing. Mind boggling to say the least.
Then, with 5:30 remaining in a tied game, Frederic and Ovechkin were back at it again, with Frederic crosschecking Ovechkin twice. At least that one was called. But then Ovechkin, probably tired of being pestered by a fourth-liner, did a cup check on Frederic that cost him a minor penalty for slashing (slashing?) and a subsequent $5,000 fine. How two referees could have seen what Ovechkin did to Frederic and deemed that to be a slashing minor and not a spearing major defies explanation.
And that’s where the Department of Player Safety failed. Again. The fine it levied against Ovechkin is the most allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, but would it have been too much to have Ovechkin sit and think about what he did for just one game? That game, consequently, is also against the Bruins, which mean the potential exists for more of this garbage when the two teams play Friday night. Because this season spans only 116 days, which is about 60 days fewer than normal seasons, Ovechkin would have been fined just over $82,000 had he been suspended one game. (That’s based on Ovechkin’s $9.54 million cap hit divided by the 116 days of the truncated regular season. And since Ovechkin isn’t taxed on the $5,000 fine, if he has a good accountant he’ll actually only be out of pocket for about half of that.)
The bottom line here is that Frederic was being a bit of a jerk. So, of course, that would lead a good number of people to believe he got what he deserved. And there are those non-Ovechkin fans who probably think he should have done the ‘honorable’ thing and engaged Frederic in a fight, despite the fact that it would have been a horrible trade for the Capitals. In reality, Ovechkin showed remarkable restraint in not fighting.
And when Frederic crosschecked Ovechkin later, it’s likely he could restrain himself no more. But that’s not excuse for spearing an opponent in the pills. If the league’s stars should be protected, as this corner has advocated for years, it’s also fair that they should be treated the same as other players when they are guilty of miscreant behavior.
If you allow these things to happen on the ice, or penalize them by fining players the equivalent of pocket change, you end up with the law of the jungle. Wait a minute, that’s exactly the NHL has now. And those who run it appear to like it very much.
Carry on, then.