NHL Sunday Insider: Sabres taking dirty play to a new level

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2013 - 9:39 PM

Enforcer John Scott’s actions stand out on a team that is dysfunctional on the ice and in the front office.

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Buffalo’s John Scott gave Boston’s Loui Eriksson with a concussion after this hit Wednesday. Scott faces league discipline, and there’s the threat that league will choose to make an example of him.

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The adage in sports is you’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, never as bad as they say when you lose.

Lou Holtz apparently coined that phrase, but the Buffalo Sabres are doing their darnedest to prove it wrong.

The rebuilding Sabres are an utter disaster. They are losing nearly every game (2-10-1 in their first 13 games and outscored 37-20), getting booed on their winless home ice early and mocked lately by salty fans. They are hearing nightly chants begging for the heave-ho of their interminable general manager, Darcy Regier, and worse yet are making dirty hits a habit.

At the end of an epic rant aimed for the head of former Wild player John Scott and young coach Ron Rolston on Wednesday night, NBC Sports Network analyst Mike Milbury described the Sabres like this: “The thing’s a mess. It’s a fire. It’s the Titanic.”

Anti-Milbury zealots took to Twitter to call Milbury a hypocrite, saying if anybody would know about disasters it would be the guy who drafted Rick DiPietro over Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik, gave the goalie a lifetime contract, gave away Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen in one trade, dealt guys like Zdeno Chara, Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe in others, and handed Alexei Yashin $90 million.

Oh, and he once smacked a fan with his own shoe.

What Milbury did as the one-time Islanders GM is irrelevant. His larger point is accurate — the Sabres are a laughingstock, becoming an easy two points for every opponent, watching the value of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller wilt away and arguably seeing their prized prospects regress.

Worse yet, there’s a disturbing lack of discipline.

It started with Scott in the preseason lining up and challenging Toronto Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel. Scott wasn’t slapped by the NHL, probably because if you honestly look at the incident without blue-and-white Maple Leafs-biased eyes, Scott was “acting” the enforcer role.

If 6-foot-8 behemoth John Scott truly wanted to destroy little Phil Kessel, he would have. But Scott lined up next to Kessel, warned the former Gophers standout and then swatted over top of him before a riot nearly ensued. Sure, Scott looks like a goofball, but he didn’t attack Kessel like many want us to believe.

Still, the Sabres seem to be getting dirtier and dirtier. It was highlighted by Patrick Kaleta's latest assault on Columbus’ Jack Johnson and Scott concussing Boston Bruins upper-echelon forward Loui Eriksson with precisely the type of cheap head shot the NHL’s trying to remove.

Kaleta has a rap sheet dating back to his junior days.

Scott has never been disciplined before, and those who watched him in Minnesota know that while he might be a limited player with a singular role to intimidate, Scott never initiated any sort of hits here as reckless as Wednesday’s.

Still, critics went to town on Scott. Before the Sabres-Bruins game even began, Milbury called Scott a “goon” who “doesn’t belong in the league.” So you knew you’d need popcorn to watch the postgame show, and analysts Milbury and Keith Jones didn’t disappoint.

Milbury called Scott a “predator” and “meathead … put out there to seek and destroy.”

Jones said Scott was the “type of player that is not a necessary part of the National Hockey League.”

Scott might be in big trouble because of Jones’ last point. He’s an easy target for the NHL.

There have been an alarming amount of dirty hits in the NHL lately despite suspension after suspension. There has been a revolving door of in-person hearings at the league’s New York headquarters (in-person hearings give discipline czar Brendan Shanahan the option to suspend six-plus games). Scott is the latest.

There have been five suspensions since Kaleta’s 10-game ban. If that didn’t teach players a lesson, maybe Scott’s reprimand will.

Scott claims he is not a dirty player, that this was just an unfortunate accident as he tried to complete an open-ice check. But he is an easy mark and might very well be used as a guinea pig to try to clean up this league.


NHL Short Takes

Commissioner Gary Bettman upheld Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta’s 10-game suspension and released a report supporting his decision.

Most fascinating is how it gave a glimpse of the NHL Players’ Association’s case in supporting Kaleta. The union in part blamed Columbus’ Jack Johnson, saying his positioning contributed to the hit and that Kaleta was doing his job as an “energy player.”

Remember, Johnson is a dues-paying member of the NHLPA, too, so it showed how fine a line the union has to walk sometimes to support one player who has been scolded for hurting another.

Changing image

New Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella knows the Canucks’ previous reputation of being a bunch of divers and whiners.

Too much talk

Montreal’s Lars Eller provided Edmonton with locker-room fodder when he said the Oilers “play a little bit like a junior team.” The Oilers then beat the Canadiens.

“They may as well have sent me over a basket of fruit and a bottle of wine,” Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. “I was like, ‘Man, this is perfect, a really great present from Mr. Eller.’ ”

• Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos said it took nine hours to shoot the new Coke Zero commercial he appears in: “I think I’ll stick to hockey.”

Wild's week ahead

Monday: vs. Chicago, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Friday: vs. Montreal, 7 p.m. (FSN+)

Player to watch: PK Subban

The Canadiens defenseman who bested Ryan Suter for last season’s Norris Trophy again leads all blue-liners in scoring. He also scored the last hat trick at Xcel Energy Center (March 20, 2011).

VOICES

"I think the coaches got a little scared."

Wild defensive defenseman Clayton Stoner on his attempted toe-drag during Tuesday’s victory over Nashville.

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