On Saturday night, a seemingly meaningless game between the Toronto Maple Leafs went terribly wrong. A game where the Red Wings were actually putting up a good fight, and the Leafs got their offence going, but that’s not why I’m writing this article.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Jake Muzzin connects with a clean hit against Anthony Mantha, it only goes downhill from there. Mantha doesn’t take kindly to it and gets into it with Muzzin. They swap punches, Mantha gets Muzzin in a headlock, and Muzzin takes Mantha down HARD, with Mantha’s head hitting the ice, and it’s immediately apparent that Mantha was hurt on the play.
With less than a minute left in the game, Andreas Athanasiou comes down the ice and hits a knee on knee hit on Alex Kerfoot, but Kerfoot is able to avoid most contact. No one on the Leafs takes kindly to that, and Athanasiou gets at it with Justin Holl. Athanasiou appears to try to replicate what happened with Mantha, and after a few punches from the back, throws Holl to the ground.
On the Mantha play, I immediately cringed, absolutely terrible and unfortunate. On the Athanasiou play, my bias showed very hard, and I’m not sure when was the last time I’ve been more furious at a play like that.
It appears that neither will get punished by the NHL, so the question lingers. Should Muzzin and Athanasiou have been suspended?
Muzzin started it all, so it’s fitting that we start with him.
The Case For Suspension
Easy. Muzzin bodyslammed Mantha into the ice, and he swept Mantha’s legs out while doing so. No matter the circumstances, that warrants some sort of punishment. I can already hear Leafs Nation yelling at me, just keep reading. The main issue is the fact that Mantha got injured. Mantha has been placed on IR, and although the severity of his injury is unclear, he’s confirmed to be missing the Wings’ next game on the 28th.
The Case Against Suspension
Okay, it’s important to note everything that happens before this play. Jake Muzzin hits Mantha, and usually one would assume the play just goes on. Muzzin, and everyone else, appeared taken aback by the fact that Mantha responded in such a way. Muzzin is put in a headlock, gets punched a few times while defenceless, and appears to just be trying to take Mantha down.
Look, I’m not going to be biased here. Muzzin may have been somewhat defenceless, but he still swept Mantha’s legs from under him, and the main point of contact to the ice was Anthony Mantha’s head. I honestly think that if Mantha was less seriously injured, such as a sore limb or something, the expected punishment shouldn’t be as much. The play alone I’d give maybe two games at maximum. However, the NHL needs to crack down on brain injuries, and the plays that lead to them. Personally, I think it was worthy of a 5 game suspension, but it’s NHL Player Safety we’re talking about, so with that in consideration, I expected 3-5 games.
I see a lot of fellow Leafs fans strongly disagreeing, but in the end, it’s supposed to be NHL Player Safety for a reason, and I thought they should’ve delivered here.
I think Andreas Athanasiou’s play is what made both plays get thrown further into the spotlight, so let’s dive in.
The Case For Suspension
Also incredibly easy. Athanasiou goes into this play with the pure intent of retribution and retaliation in mind, nothing else. AA locks target on Alex Kerfoot (whose face is still healing from his prior injury), skates towards him, and attempts a knee on knee hit. That’s intent to injure right there. If that hit connects, at best, Kerfoot’s out for months. At worst, that’s career-threatening, that’s hunting for someone’s career. After that, Athanasiou and Holl get into it, and AA appears to attempt the same thing that happened to Mantha as he takes Holl down.
The Case Against Suspension
Neither were hurt! Muzzin’s incident is keeping a player out for at least a week, but Holl and Kerfoot came out relatively unscathed. I think in this case that’s one of the deciding factors in these incidents.
Athanasiou’s play wasn’t any form of shock or self-defence. It was pure intent to injure at that point. I think the only factor separating this play from the Muzzin play is the fact that it didn’t go how AA wanted it to. Personally, I think it’s worthy of 5-7 games at least, but the fact that no one got hurt makes me think it was worthy of 2-4. You can punish a player on the basis of intent to injure, but I guess the fact that he didn’t succeed means the punishment wouldn’t be as much? Predicting what Player Safety should do relative to what they have done is just shooting into the dark at this stage.
I’m sorry, I genuinely think it’s hilarious that after all of this, Robby Fabbri is the one who gets booked for his play. Fabbri speared Alex Kerfoot (him again) in the groin, and I completely forgot about it. The NHL watched this game, watched everything that unfolded and thought “Let’s throw the book at this Fabbri guy, disgusting.” Honestly, I’m glad Fabbri got punished, he got fined the maximum amount allowable by the CBA, $2,419.35. Come on though! You’re going to tell me after everything that happened only ROBBY FABBRI gets a fine?
In the end, both Athanasiou and Muzzin committed pretty atrocious plays. I’ve seen a fair bit of fans debating “What about Muzzin?” or “What about Athanasiou?” but in the end, that’s not the problem. Whataboutisms aren’t going to help anyone, because, to me, both of them should be punished. To suspend one means you suspend the other for doing/attempting something similar, but NHL Player Safety determined the plays to be equal, both not worthy of suspension. To me, Player Safety needs to do what their name implies, protecting the safety of the players.
By just letting these incidents slide, they’re doing the opposite. They’re showing they just don’t care. They’re showing that they don’t care about Mantha’s potential brain injury, and they don’t care about Kerfoot almost getting his career thrown upside down. At some point, it isn’t about a player on your favourite team getting suspended, it’s about making sure no one else is hurt because the NHL turned a blind eye. Now though, it shows there’s no punishment for either of those things, which is pretty insane to me.
Anyways, that take might get some heat, I don’t mean take the toughness out of the game, because wrestling someone to the ground/trying to blow someone’s knee out isn’t really rough and tough hockey, it’s just idiotic at that point. I also don’t mean that I’m actively cheering for either to get suspended because of a bias, because sometimes you can’t just be a fan of the team, you have to look at it as a fan of the sport.
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