John MacKinnon retweeted my announcement of my previous post and got the following response:
From past interaction with Liam I know that he is a staunch supporter of fighting and the role of the enforcer. I will acknowledge that he has more experience within the hockey media as his Twitter profile states. “Liam is the Editor in Chief and Lead Commentator/Analyst of the Ultimate Hockey web media outlet. He's a published author, hockey trivia King and historian.” He also has his own website, Liam Maguire’s Ultimate Hockey. I can’t compete with that.
But let’s first delve into the facts and motivation that resulted in Carkner sucker punching Boyle at 2:15 of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final, on April 14, 2012. We know that the Ottawa team was upset after their loss in Game 1, both because of key mistakes that led to Rangers goals, but also because Boyle took liberties with their star defenseman Erik Karlsson. Karlsson was punched in the head by Boyle after a whistle late in the 1st period, as reported by The Hockey News:
“The men in blue banged early, closed off the speed and space of Erik Karlsson (and, absurdly, even got away with turning him into a Daniel Sedin-esque punching bag with Brian Boyle playing the role of Brad Marchand)”
So we fast forward to Game 2 and it’s expected that Ottawa will respond to Boyle’s actions in Game 1. The video below shows what happens early in the 1st period:
Carkner said he was being a team player and was not happy that Boyle didn’t defend himself.
“It’s standing up for your teammates,” said Carkner. “I think if Boyle had just stood up and fought me — he’s a big guy (6-foot-7, 244 lbs.), he could have just held on to me or whatever, we wouldn’t be here talking. We had a guy taking liberties on our smallest player. Boyle is a big fella.”
Senators GM Bryan Murray defended Carkner.
“We understand the league’s decision in the suspension, but are disappointed for Matt, whom we felt was being a good teammate by standing up to a tough opponent who had gone out of his way to take physical liberties on Erik Karlsson,” said Murray.
Shanahan felt Carkner used “excessive force” on Boyle.
“While we understand a player’s desire to protect a teammate — and we’ve seen some examples in these playoffs — Carkner is excessive in his approach,” said Shanahan, who cited a past incident in which Carkner was fined $2,500. “(He) approached Boyle with the sole purpose of punching Boyle.”
So what was resolved by this fight? Karlsson still got punched in the head and if you watched the rest of the series, Boyle didn’t change his game and continued his aggressive play. Carkner got tossed and earned a game suspension. “The Code” was violated - sucker punching a player and continuing to hit him when he’s down is not kosher. Proves once again that “The Code” is used by players to defend fighting, but easily ignored when emotion takes over
The real issue here is weak or inconsistent application of the rules by officials, and a high tolerance for violence by the NHL. Try throwing a punch after the whistle in the NBA or NFL. Any other professional sports league would send a message to the player that violence is not part of their sport. By defending fighting Liam and others have agreed that hockey officiating and discipline is useless and cannot be trusted. They feel that it’s important to use roster spots for hulking individuals with few hockey skills and turn these emotional, biased and undisciplined players loose to enforce rules that may or may not have been broken. How is that good for the image of the sport?
Carkner sucker punching Boyle is a symptom and the cure is improved officiating and discipline. Instruct the referees to call the game more rigidly and with consistency. If you think on-ice officials can’t catch everything then put one or two additional referees up high in the rink, something suggested by Scotty Bowman and others years ago. Review incidents after every game and suspend players for acts of violence that are detrimental to the image of the sport. Assess a game misconduct for any fight and you’ll see enforcers quickly relegated to the press box and ultimately out of hockey. If two players in the heat of battle feel the need to drop the gloves then they can do so and know the consequences. No more staged fights, no more acts of revenge for something that happened weeks or months ago, no more messages sent late in a game when a team is getting blown out.
From my viewpoint, there is no doubt that Carkner’s response to Boyle was wrong.