Call it moronic. Call it asinine. Call it whatever you wish.
Last night, David Clarkson jumped over the bench to engage Buffalo enforcer John Scott following an altercation with star forward Phil Kessel.
Clarkson faces an automatic minimum suspension of 10 games for his actions. News and opinion outlets from across the country were quick to jump onto Clarkson’s actions. Head coach Randy Carlyle also criticized the forward.
It seems to me that the consensus opinion on the situation is that Clarkson did something stupid and now the Leafs have to pay for his action. Though you may disagree with me, I believe Clarkson’s actions are not as foolish as some are willing to believe. Hear me out.
This situation would have certainly not happened if Frazer McLaren or Colton Orr had been active instead on the injured reserve. People talk about how enforcers are useless plugs who take up a roster spot. However, the only real counter to an enforcer is an enforcer of your own.
Disagree if you wish, but there will always be an enforcer of sorts in hockey, as long as fighting is still permissable. Sure, a team can “stay above the ruckus” and go into games without one, but what can they do when the opposition throws a behemoth onto the ice like John Scott? Listed at 6″8, Scott is a threatening force on the ice regardless of his actual hockey skills. Ryan Miller made a snarky comment about how the Leafs required two people to take down Scott, but the reality is, unless your name is Zdeno Chara, you do need two people to control Scott.
So this is where Clarkson comes in. And suddenly, he’s the poster boy for why hockey should ban fighting, and everyone hates (even more) the fact the Leafs signed him to such a long contract. No matter how you look at it, some of the points raised against Clarkson are very valid.
But you know who’s not going to have a single bad thing to say about Clarkson after last night? Phil Kessel. And every other Leaf in that locker room, for that matter.
Clarkson showed in that one moment to everyone wearing a blue and white sweater that he’s willing to sacrifice over half a million dollars in order to stand up for a teammate. He didn’t care about what other people thought or the financial ramifications. He did what he felt was right, and for that, you have to give Clarkson some respect.
Clarkson may lose 10 games, and that will definitely hurt the Leafs. But Clarkson will be a Leaf for the next seven years. Over those seven years, none of the players with Clarkson that night will forget what the man is willing to do for his brothers-in-arms.
Imagine for a second what would have happened if John Scott had jumped Kessel and Clarkson hadn’t stepped in to help. Sure, Clarkson would have avoided a suspension, and the Leafs would likely be better off for it. Kessel and the other players on the ice may take a little bit of an extra beating, but nothing that will traumatize them for long. It seems as if there are nothing but positives.
However, what message does that send to the rest of the league? That it’s okay to send out goons like Scott out against stars like Kessel? Who knows, maybe the Bruins would get Shawn Thornton to go pound on Joffrey Lupul. Perhaps the Habs would task Ryan White to go nuts on Nazem Kadri.
Ironically, the Sabres themselves were in a similar situation not too long ago. Ryan Miller suffered serious concussion issues after Bruins power forward Milan Lucic blatantly ran him over. No one bothered to stand up for Miller. Perhaps it was out of fear of Lucic, or maybe it was just apathy, but the fact remains that on that night, Lucic got away with his actions, and a message was sent to the entire league that the Buffalo Sabres don’t mind having their top players bullied.
Frankly, it was embarassing, and even the Sabres knew it.
“I’m embarrassed that we didn’t respond the way we should have.” said former Sabre Paul Gaustad, “We didn’t push back. There’s no reason to be scared. We had to go after it, and we didn’t.”
So in the end, perhaps Clarkson’s actions were not in the best interests of his hockey team. Anyone can stand on a pedestal and criticize a man for his actions. But don’t forget there are always more than one side to a story. Don’t believe for a second that Clarkson is just a fool-hardy goon itching for trouble. The man had perfectly good reasons for what he did, and at the end of the day, it’s not up to us how a hockey player believes he best serves his team.
Alex is a Lead Writer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since joining the Hockey Writers, he has also briefly covered the Carolina Hurricanes. He also currently works as an assistant for the Western Mustangs at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @alexmai11.