Back in the days when I played junior hockey, players held each other accountable and NHL players did the same. If referees missed a call, or even if they called a penalty on a cheap shot, the victim was looked after by his peers. If you did something questionable, you knew that you’d have to answer for your action. And that’s why rats back then were not only few and far between, but they were much, much braver. They knew that they couldn’t hide behind a rule protecting them. They knew that someone would come to pay them a visit with his gloves off.
Last night, Nikita Zadorov, a 6-foot 6-inches and 235 pounds defenseman of the Colorado Avalanche, violently hit 19 year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the corner. Kotkaniemi fell on his head and neck to never return to the game. The Canadiens have announced that Kotkaniemi suffered an “upper body” injury, which we all know is, at the very least, a concussion and would not accompany his team in New York to face the Rangers. The two blind mice on the ice – otherwise called referees – both missed the infraction. The sad part is that some people are supporting their decision. It seems like the need to try to appear unbiased is stronger than the recognizing and acknowledging the facts. In my opinion, which is shared by many people it seems, it was a slew foot that took Kotkaniemi off balance before being thrown to the ice by Zadorov. But who’s right?
First, lets see what the NHL rulebook states:
A player using his LEG or foot to KNOCK or kick… Now, let’s have a look at the hit itself.
Notice Zadorov’s right leg. His foot gets off the ice in a forward motion, knocking Kotkaniemi, forcing his legs forward. Zadorov used his upper body at the same time to slam his opponent violently to the ice. Granted, it wasn’t as clear in real time but if, after watching this, you still don’t think it was a slew foot, people should definitely question your motive as the act is very clear.
Canadiens lack of response
After the dirty hit, I got immediately thinking that had Zadorov done that to Mathew Barzal in Long Island, for example, he would have had to deal with Matt Martin that game. Unfortunately, the Canadiens have Charles Hudon, Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins needed to play on the power play (sic) instead of having guys who can help protect their talented players. Just last week, I had compiled a list of players that GM Marc Bergevin should try to acquire to make his fourth line more like the New York Islanders. It would go a long way, in my opinion, to bring this group together.
Still, even with the Habs not having anyone who can take on Zadorov, the lack of response from his teammates was extremely disappointing. Fine. Don’t go after the monster Zadorov. But what kept them from going after Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen or Samuel Girard? Nothing. Nothing but lack of caring, playing for your fat paycheck instead of for each other. The lack of emotion displayed by the Canadiens’ players last night is enough to make the great John Ferguson roll in his tomb and Chris Nilan give himself a concussion from shaking his head. Those guys cared for their teammates. It sure had a similar effect on yours truly. The Habs need even more character from guys who actually care.
I’ve touched on it in many occasions on this blog, but the Instigator rule should be amended for the good of the game. But the NHL made their bed and there is no way that they can change it back now. Not with the legal implication it would bring. This is perhaps the biggest gaff by Commissioner Gary Bettman, his “legacy” in which he’s done everything in his power to screw the players both financially with multiple lockouts (and by ricochet the fans) and on ice, putting them at a bigger risk than ever before. Go Habs Go!