The pre-season is a time for players on the move to get acclimated with their new team. It’s a chance for prospects and borderline NHLers to show what they can do and try to earn a spot on the roster. It’s a time for coaches to evaluate player progression from the summer and to try different line combinations. Or, if you’re a Philadelphia Flyer, it’s a chance to try to cripple somebody.
Obviously that last sentence was a bit sarcastic, but it is not completely false. Two of the eight longest suspensions in NHL history were given to Jesse Boulerice (23 games) and Steve Downie (20 games) for targets to the head during a pre-season game. Jody Shelley delivered a hit from behind that earned him a 10 game suspension only a few days ago, and then tonight we get this beauty from Tom Sestito.
Andre Deveaux is lucky to not have been hurt. A brief search of Flyers suspensions shows me 12 Flyers suspensions (soon to be 13) since 2009, though I might be missing some from previous pre-seasons. The number of suspensions the Rangers have had in that same timeframe? Zero. And the Rangers have recorded the most hits in the NHL since the start of the 2009 season. I simply refuse to buy that this is a coincidence. That some teams have a clean record while others don’t. And the NHL needs to address this. Yes, Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito were punished, but in what way are the Flyers held accountable? In what way are they inconvenienced? Peter Laviolette probably could not care less that he won’t be able to dress Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito for a handful of games. If the NHL wants to prevent these kinds of plays then they can’t simply look at individual players but the organizations themselves. I guarantee these kinds of hits would go down if teams were at risk of being fined or losing draft picks for an excessive number of incidents. Otherwise, a team like the Flyers doesn’t really have much of an incentive to stop irrelevant players from committing these types of hits in meaningless games.