A Good Play Gone Bad
Unless you want to follow the rules, there's not much that could have been changed about the hit from behind on Mike Van Ryn on Saturday night.
Van Ryn was doing his job, trying to make the toughest, most courageous play in the game, which is hustling back to get the puck in your own zone knowing you're going to get drilled into the end boards.
Don't tell me about the "tough guys" of the games, the guys who scrap, the guys who will take a million punches to the face to ensure Gretzky doesn’t get sneezed on once. Tell me about the Van Ryns who make that play night after night. Those are the tough guys. Those are the players you need more of to make a tough hockey team. Van Ryn’s C grade in the Cox Alphabet of Defensive Merit is exactly the guys who you build teams around.
So Van Ryn was making the right play. So too was Tom Kostopoulos, a 29-year-old winger from Mississauga who isn't in the league to be fancy and score but to skate hard, leave his feet to finish his check, and to wipe the unsightly smudge off the name crest of Van Ryns jersey, at top speed.
His job was to try to force Van Ryn to turn over the puck, and then create an offensive chance for his team by either motivating Van Ryn not to make the right play or by breaking his hand, nose, and lend him a concussion. The one option he doesn't have if he wants to continue making $900,000 a season in the NHL as a semi-skilled laborer is to pull up and not hit Van Ryn. If he were a player that made say, 7 figures, then he has the option to cater to the safety of the game, and preserve the respect amongst players in the league. Leaving an opponents health half right, however is not an option for semi skilled players.
So you had a veteran NHLer trying to do the right thing, and another playing within his tax bracket dictated ethics rules, hockey camps everywhere teach this. At the last moment, Van Ryn spun back, again trying to make the right play by playing the puck but avoiding the hit. Kostopoulos left his feet with his arms extending, and the result was serious injury to the Leaf defenseman and a major and game misconduct for the Montreal forward.
No intent to injure. Just a semi skilled labourer wanting to earn his pay, delivering a dangerous hit, gone way bad.
So no, Kostopoulos doesn't deserve a suspension, although the nature of the hit mandated his expulsion from the match, he deserves to be heralded as a grinder god for his work. He probably will get at least one game off, however, for making that play in a nationally televised Montreal-Toronto game with the entire hockey world watching. If it happens in Nashville in a game between the Predators and Blue Jackets, we probably never hear about it, I for one, can guarantee that my spotty journalism wouldn’t have picked it up.
But he doesn't deserve a suspension.
Now if you want to follow the rules, that's another thing. If you want to make a rule that says a guy can’t leave his feet and shove another players upper back, forcing his head into the most dangerous of positions, then you might avoid that kind of play in the future, or penalized that player 5, plus a game, plus potential supplementary discipline.
Otherwise, it's going to happen in this sport of high-speed, violent collisions. But this wasn't dirty, it was just the nature of 900k salaries. This wasn't Cam Janssen hitting Tomas Kaberle five Mississippis after the puck was gone or repeat offender Ryan Hollweg hammering an opponent from behind for the zillionth time, this was a player hitting another player from behind, arms high, feet fly, in other words, a good hit gone wrong.
But others will differ, and some will suggest the play never would have happened if the Leafs had a goon in their lineup. Those people you'll never convince of anything, and the presence of Georges Laraque didn't stop the Leafs from going hard after the puck in hockey plays near Carey Price on three separate occasions on Saturday night. Nor would the threat of an angry Wendel Clark totally obliterating even the hall of fame habs in attendance, have stopped the play on Schenn. [Schenn earned a ‘Raw’ grade on the Alphabet of Defensive Merit last week. Uncooked is likely the equivalent of ‘Jump Again’ on the infamous Jump to Conclusions mat.]
The unfortunate thing for Van Ryn is that after missing time last year with wrist problems, his game was coming to together nicely in Toronto [meriting a C grade mentioned last week], and then this happens. Game's just not fair sometimes, has anyone reading this ever played to confirm?