This is going to sound a lot like a cheap shot, but hey, just paying it forward here. The NHL actually punished the Edmonton Oilers more by merely fining Milan Lucic $10,000 for his attack on Mathieu Joseph Wednesday night rather than suspending him. Forcing the Oilers to keep him in the lineup, or make him a healthy scratch, is actually more punitive. The guy averages $6 million a year on a contract that has four more years on it after this season and he’s scored a grand total of one even-strength goal in his past 64 games.
Of course, 10 grand from Lucic’s jeans aren’t going to change his behavior and he’s just as likely to chase down another rookie and drill him when he’s nowhere near the puck before punching him in the head and igniting a line brawl. That’s standard fare for guys like Lucic. You know the guys. They’re the honorable tough guys who are supposed to keep the peace out there. Teams need guys like Milan Lucic to keep their players from getting abused by players like Milan Lucic.
As it always does, this little temper tantrum Lucic took was born out of frustration and that age-old code that suggest that every single act of aggression, no matter how major or minor, must be addressed and then some. What Lucic did had nothing to do with the heat of the moment. It was a premeditated attack in a game that was out of reach in response to a hit on teammate Kris Russell from Joseph that left the Oilers defenseman cut and bleeding.
It was all pretty minor in nature, but that’s not the point. Because you know who else once chased a guy around the ice for his pound of flesh to respond to a dirty play? Todd Bertuzzi, that’s who. Don’t think for one minute that I’m putting this act on the same level as Bertuzzi’s attack on Steve Moore, but those in the hockey world who are applauding Lucic for standing up for a teammate, or putting on their website, ‘Gotta See It!’ with the accompanying video of the incident would be clucking their tongues and talking about how this kind of thing has no place in hockey if the whole incident had gone sideways.
And it very well could have. Lucic is a massive human being. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, he’s just as tall and two pounds heavier than Bertuzzi was when he played. Joseph is an inexperienced rookie who was giving up 40 pounds on Lucic. The slash to Joseph's legs was one thing. No biggie. Even the hit on Joseph wasn’t terribly egregious. It’s when Lucic then basically jumps Joseph and starts punching him in the head that he clearly crosses the line. Those who have never played the game before and never been in that situation are happy to let boys be boys, but they’re not the ones taking punches to the head from a 231-pound beast who is wearing a hard hockey glove. And it wasn’t only that. The scuffle drew a crowd to both Lucic and Joseph that could have been really dangerous if someone had lost and edge or fallen on the pile. And then the predictable tongue clucking would have gone into overdrive.
Did Joseph’s hit on Russell merit a penalty? Don’t know. Didn’t see it. But let’s assume it did. If that’s the case, then that’s on one of either Jake Brenk or Dan O’Rourke, who were refereeing the game. Perhaps they missed the call or didn’t think it was that egregious. Perhaps they blew it completely. The point Lucic was undoubtedly making was that since the league won’t protect our players, I’m going to have to do it myself. And it has been thus since the beginning of time.
Even though the game is changing, it is still full of dinosaurs who think this kind of thing is completely acceptable. What they don’t realize, though, is that NHL players are bigger, stronger and more dangerous than they ever have been in history. Milan Lucic wasn’t called onto the carpet by the NHL because of some insignificant roughing infraction in which nobody was hurt. He was disciplined because what he did had the potential to go very, very wrong.
It’s going to be a long slog here, folks, before some people realize the game has changed and they have to change with it. Until that time, carry on, then…