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Isles Pride and Campbell Prejudice - what punishment on the Gillies-go-round?

It is a truth universally recognized, that a hockey player who is just coming off a lengthy suspension for a dirty hit, must be in want of another one.

Hm.  Maybe Jane Austen wouldn't be much of a hockey fan.  If she were, however, I'm sure that she would be shaking her head primly at the impropriety of Trevor Gillies.

Since I spent last night visiting those two guys under a rock in the Geico commercial, I'm coming into this late.  I flipped on the morning replay of The Final Score, saw Okposo's goal as the teaser, and got a kick out of the announcer calling poor Kyle "OCK-paso."  I had no idea that after that highlight, I'd be treated to Trevor 2.0.

After seeing it, I felt certain that there would be froth; and lo, it came to pass.  Mike Milbury - apparently not at all the same guy who recently frothed at Andrew Ference for calling out his teammate, Daniel Paille, for a bad hit - was immediately calling out Gillies for the bad hit.  That he and his "Big Bad Bruins" were well-known for coming to each other's defense, as Gillies was doing for Justin DiBenedetto, seems to have been overlooked in his eagerness to condemn.  He also blamed the islanders as an organization, which almost makes me think he's Colin Campbell in an ill-fitting Mike Milbury body-suit.  (I'm expecting another Sad Mario is Sad letter, too, as he further laments the state of hockey from his private estate in the Kingdom of Wounded Nobility.)

But then a funny thing happened... there wasn't much else besides Milbury and Jones.  Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshinski, predictably, thought it was evil.

Sticking up for teammate Justin DiBenedetto after a boarding penalty on Cal Clutterbuck, Gillies charged the Wild forward and crushed his head against the glass. He was given a 5-minute checking from behind penalty and was ejected from the game. ...

Again, it's a different situation that the Penguins game, which seemed to exist for the Islanders to administer cheap-shot comeuppance for previous acts by Pittsburgh. This was a heat-of-the-moment, tactless hit in defense of a teammate that's inexcusable after serving a 9-game ban.

But even Wysh noticed that Clutterbuck had just thrown an identical hit on DiBenedetto.  He knows that Gillies was coming to DiBo's defense.  He concedes that it was different than the Pittsburgh melee that earned Gillies his nine-game ban.  Oddly, he still calls it inexcusable.  I'm with WebBard on that one... huh?  If there's no excuse for Gillies, what about Clutterbuck starting trouble with a rookie in a 3-0 game?

In fact, the lights of reason seem to be shining through the typical media storm, such as TSN's Bob McKenzie, who took to Twitter around midnight Eastern time with his take (below the jump).

(The link in the first sentence is to the tweet in question - you can scroll up from there, they're all in a row. I'm putting them in paragraph form below for legibility's sake.)

How many games for Gillies? Good question. Forget for moment it's repeat offender Gillies. If some generic player did it, how many? My personal opinion is it should be (for non Gillies player) 2 to 4 games. Payback hit. No puck there. Shot to head. But...

In today's NHL, I venture a non-Gillies player would only get fined or maybe get a 1 game suspension if no injury on that play. But since it was Gillies and was minutes off returning from 9-game susp, he's going to get more than what any other generic NHLer would get. Just a guess: 4 or 5 games and, yes, I know many will call for double digits or life. Clutterbuck's health will be the x factor too.

Incidentally, not that it really matters, but it wasn't a hit from behind. Boarding or charging or perhap elbow (forearm), for sure. Only 1 camera angle - last one shown on game broadcast - clearly shows arm making direct contact with the head.

If you scroll up from there, it looks as if some folks took umbrage to this. Aaaaaah! A rational response! BURN THE WITCH!  And here's the thing - I don't blame them, per se.  It DOES look bad.  And fans are going to be upset anyway, especially the Minnesota fans.  It's expected.  Every team is nothing but innocent little angels, except where they aren't - but that's different!  And honestly?  Isles fans are the same.  People defend Trevor Gillies' presence on the Isles roster as a necessary precaution against the bevy of cheap shots taken against Okposo (Phaneuf), John Tavares (Pronger and others), Frans Neilsen (Mike Mottau), Blake Comeau (Talbot), and Rick DiPietro (Cooke).

These people, sad to say, have a point.

That gets us to the underlying problem here.  Gillies is an enforcer - he's designed to keep dirty play from happening.  So, when Clutterbuck boards DiBenedetto, Gillies comes around and lets Clutterbuck know that this sort of thing comes with a cost.  Gillies is not going to turn Clutterbuck around and pummel him unless he does something really out of line.  Gillies' hit was meant to be equal to what Clutterbuck did to DiBo.  (And lest we forget, DiBo's a rookie playing his second-ever NHL game - it looks a lot like Clutterbuck was picking on the new guy, another long-standing NHL tradition.)  Last year, Clutterbuck gets two for boarding, Gillies gets two for charging, and nobody would have batted an eye.

Since the lockout, however, the league is trying to tame the frontier justice.  The problem is that their solution - the ill-named "instigator" penalty - actually punishes the enforcer and NOT the instigator, the guy running around and stirring the pot.  Not surprisingly, those guys are stirring harder and faster than ever, with no end in sight.

Rule 48 - ostensibly to protect players from concussion - is in its own way just making things worse, because again the NHL is not addressing the problem, only the appearance.  Not that the rule iteslf is bad, mind you... in theory.  But it didn't keep Marc Savard safe.  It didn't keep Sidney Crosby safe.  It didn't keep Comeau safe.  NONE OF THOSE HITS WERE PENALIZED IN ANY WAY.  And an accidental contact with the head is an automatic ejection - the refs are given no discretion at all to give two, or give five without an ejection.  And frankly, they need that discretion, because hockey players are not only the fastest-moving athletes, they're shifty and elusive and a guy trying to separate a player from the puck with a clean hit may catch him awkwardly and hurt him without any intent - or make contact with someone's head because he ducked his shoulder a split-second before contact.

As far as Gillies is concerned, McKenzie's correct, and he's gonna get at least five games. Certain media who have been using the Isles' struggles during their rebuild as a hook to hang lazy columns off of will now have another lazy hook - the Isles can't compete so they're gooning it up. I mean, you've seen Slap Shot! Amirite? You hear me, Columbus Dispatch fans!  And they're not going to notice or much care that the Isles have played good hockey after Woe-vember, that they have a lot of good young players (and more on the way - Neiderreiter, de Haan, Cizikas, Lee).  They're going to take the lazy way out.  It's a perfect, ready-made excuse to pile on; all the better that they may have a point about Gillies, who offers just about zero hockey value beyond the protection of his teammates and esprit de corps.

Honestly, it's tiresome to have to go over this ground again.  It distracts from the real turnaround happening on Long Island.  Mock the small crowds and the poor record, but this team is getting much better.  They are definitely in the mix next season for a playoff berth.

As for Rule 48... it's time for a little sense and sensibility.  I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the rule needs a major overhaul, because it doesn't do what it was meant to do, protect the players.  Quite the reverse, I'm afraid - I'm forced to conclude that the NHL is only trying to cover its collective fundament, so it doesn't get sued by players whose careers have been impaired or ruined, like Savard, like LaFontaine before him, like others to come if this doesn't get seriously addressed.  But the rules already provide for tossing guys out when they aim to injure, who have no reason for their hitting, who aren't trying to prevent goals but knock opponents out of the game.  You could look it up - and I've reffed my share of rec league games, so I have - boarding, charging, elbowing, high-sticking, and many others can result in majors.  Use THOSE tools that are already in place to discipline the actual instigators.  Fine them.  Fine their franchises.  Don't just hold your nose and look the other way until the enforcer gets your attention for doing what you ought to have done in the first place - hold the initiators responsible.  You will soon have far fewer of them.

Beyond that, the league and its fans have to recognize one thing - even proper rules enforcement won't stop the agitators and the dirty players.  That's what makes them dirty.  So what it's against the rules?  I'm gonna smack that guy face-first into the boards two seconds after the puck's gone!  It will happen anyway.  Matt Cooke's breed of play has a lineage going back through Claude Lemeiux and Ken Linseman, back to before the NHL existed.  You can take care of the casual offender and he will not repeat it; the incorrigible we shall always have with us.  Because of that, the enforcer is still required to deal out a Moustache Ride in response.

The current "fighting has no place in our game" moralizing from the league is complete hogwash, frankly.  It's self-serving, and allows Bettman and Campbell to sound correct while actually doing things that are the exact oposite of helpful.  The goon who does nothing but fight is bad for the game, they say; well, what about the goon who does nothing but endanger other guys' health and careers?  The enforcer would be far less necessary if you cracked down on the behavior he's there to punish!  Heck - enforcers might even need to be able to carry their weight for 8-10 minutes a night.  Wonder of wonders, if you curtail dirty play, you might just improve the quality of the hockey being played.  Once you get past the tribal instinct of "my team good, all others suq lulz !!!one!!1!" the fans get that; they know punishing the enforcer more than the troublemaker serves, in practice, to protect the troublemaker.  That's the real reason why dirty play is on the rise.

The late Bob Probert (rest in peace) and Dave Schultz could play plenty well when they weren't throwing down.  Clark Gillies was so good at both aspects of the game, he made the Hall of Fame - and he never accumulated 100 PIM in a single season.  He didn't need to.  It can be done.  But it requires a sensible system of discipline, that people can trust to be just and impartial.  We're farther from that goal now than we were during the alleged big, bad 70's.  The current Wheel of Discipline system is ridiculous because the guy who starts stuff gets punished less than the guy who steps in to stop it. 

If you want more Clark Gillies and less Trevor Gillies - and honestly, I'm good with that - then protect good players by punishing people who are trying to injure them, rahter than merely defend against them.  The rest will take care of itself.