Last year, Brad Richards scored 66 points in 82 games for the New York Rangers. In his six-year career with the Buffalo Sabres, Patrick Kaleta has accumulated a total of 50 points. In terms of actually comparing the hockey talents of the two, one would first have to suspend disbelief to somehow rationalize the usage of “hockey talent” and “Patrick Kaleta” in the same sentence and then come up with a suitable analogy. Comparing the singing talents of John Lennon and Tiny Tim? The Presidential talents of Abraham Lincoln and Herbert Hoover? The being naked talents of Kate Upton and Harvey Keitel?
Though just under the NHL elite, Richards is a true number one center in the NHL. He has twice topped 90 points, is well above average both offensively and defensively, is considered one of the top passers in the league, and has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP while leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to their only Stanley Cup in the spring of 2004.
Kaleta? Well, he… um, likes to hit things. And he can kind of skate, and hold a hockey stick in a way which vaguely resembles an actual hockey player. Also, he’s mean. Generally, he can be seen trying to keep a job in the NHL by going after every other team’s star player with the intent to knock them off their game. NHL apologists would call him an “agitator”. His opponents would likely call him something unprintable in a column I’m concerned that children might read. And I do care about children, especially considering the vast majority of them have more hockey skill than Patrick Kaleta.
So, why are they being mentioned together in the same column? It would be grossly inaccurate to insinuate that their destinies have collided. It might be more accurate by far to say that, during the Buffalo/Rangers game on March 3, Kaleta’s stick collided with Richards’ back when he wasn’t looking, sending him hurtling face-first and defenseless into the boards. It would be far from daring to infer that destiny had nothing whatsoever to do with this:
How is this allowed to happen? Quite simply, because the NHL allows players like Kaleta to exist, and the only way players like Kaleta can make a difference and thereby exist in the NHL is by striking fear into the actually talented players in the league. Let’s face it: Kaleta lacks the skill to play on a scoring line. He lacks the smarts to be a defensive shut-down wing. And he lacks the toughness to be an enforcer in the mold of hulking players like George Parros and Jody Shelley.
Thus, in much the same way prehistoric sea slugs evolved to slither ashore to become, well… slug slugs, Kaleta learned the one way he could create a niche for himself as an actual player in the National Hockey League. This involved eschewing all respect for the well-being of superior hockey players and targeting the stars on opposing teams. Essentially, Kaleta’s game is to hack, slash and cross-check star players like Brad Richards and Ilya Kovalchuk and Sidney Crosby and Erik Karlsson, thus making them unable to concentrate on playing their game because they are worried about getting decapitated by Kaleta when they are trying to make a play.
In Kaleta’s defense, this behavior has kept the otherwise useless player in the NHL for over six seasons. In the NHL’s defense, they suspended Kaleta for five games for his unnecessary and dangerous hit on Richards. In the defense of Kaleta’s employers in Buffalo, Kaleta’s asinine on-ice antics often actually work. Try sitting at your desk in your office working on your computer when you know that, at any given second, someone from a competing company might wait until you are not paying attention and then run behind you and whack you upside the head with a piece of lumber and not care if it puts you in the hospital for a month. It’s not easy to do. I know this because even my co-workers often want to smack me upside the head with a piece of lumber. But I digress.
Creative Change In Rules Might Stop Players From Future Kaleta-ing
How do we prevent players like Kaleta from a blatant disregard for his opponents’ health and livelihood? Surely, a five-game suspension will not change him. This is his third suspension in four years, including one for boarding and one for head-butting. The fear he strikes in his opponents is, quite simply, the only thing which keeps Kaleta in the NHL. He cannot tone down his game because, in essence, there is no other redeemable facet to his game whatsoever. Kaleta is astute enough to know that toning it down means he is no longer a viable NHL-er, and thus will lose his own livelihood.
The answer lies in hurting the team of the player who is suspended for attempting to injure a fellow player.
I propose that any player suspended for such an infraction should not be able to be replaced on the roster during the course of his suspension.
Every team plays with 20 skaters per game. In most cases, a head coach has four lines of three forwards, three pairings of two defensemen, a goaltender and a back-up goaltender. What if, during Kaleta’s five-game suspension, the Buffalo Sabres were unable to replace him and were forced to go with 19 skaters? This would put both his coach and his team at a slight disadvantage for the ensuing five games.
As is, the Sabres will replace Kaleta on the roster for the next five games. Probably with a forward with more skill than Kaleta (word is Corey Tropp), though one who lacks a penchant for, ah, “agitation“. Still, the Sabres will likely not be negatively affected whatsoever during Kaleta’s absence.
If Buffalo were forced to go with just 19 skaters, it would grind them down over a five-game stretch, tire them out late in tight games, render them a little less able to match up against other teams’ 20 skaters. This would make head coaches less likely to enable the behavior of the Kaletas of the league, more likely to discourage dirty hits on opposing stars, fearful of going long-stretches of games short-handed.
As it stands, players like Kaleta are far too common in the NHL. The way they see it, if they hurt the other team’s stars, they hurt they other team. They might be less likely to continue this vile and disrespectful conduct if they were also hurting their own team.
Without the ability to strike fear in opposing players, Kaleta would likely become obsolete. Unable to play the game at an NHL talent-level and unable to target opposing players without negatively affecting his teammates, he would likely lose the one facet which keeps him in the NHL. And then the NHL would have no more Patrick Kaletas. And would that really be a bad thing at all?
Finally, Apologies To Harvey Keitel
Do you agree? Disagree? Think Harvey Keitel looks better naked than I gave him credit for? Feel free to respond in the comments section below or follow me on Twitter: @StIves72.
Writer/lunatic, hockey columnist, mlb.com, aspiring cryptozoologist, estrogen addict, patron saint of vertigo, unintentional ghost hunter. Brooklyn, New York