Pre-season hockey is meant to be a time for tuning lineups and getting back in the swing of things. Unfortunately, at this time of year, there are also players looking to make an impact in more ways than one with their teams. Sometimes that is a prospect trying to impress in order to get a longer audition with the NHL club, other times it’s a newly acquired player trying to show his new club what he can do.
Most times, this means that player is trying to go out and score goals, or kill penalties. For Max Domi last night, this meant that he had to stand up for himself and prove how tough he was in an altercation with Aaron Ekblad. Early in the third period Domi got involved with Ekblad behind the Florida Panthers net; a typical shoving match nothing more.
Max Domi given the rest of the night off after sucker punching Aaron Ekblad pic.twitter.com/T9kZzxSiSC— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) September 20, 2018
As you can see in the clip above, clearly Ekblad has no interest in escalating this further and he is attempting to pull away to get back in the play. Even as Domi continually tugs on his collar to instigate something, Ekblad ignores him and tries to skate away. Eventually, Domi decides to throw several gloved punches at Ekblad, taking the situation into far more serious territory.
When Ekblad goes to tie up to protect his face, Domi drops a glove and uncorks a sucker punch that drops Ekblad and cuts his face. It ended Domi’s night with a match penalty, while Ekblad went through concussion protocol. Thankfully for Ekblad, it was determined that he did not suffer a broken nose or concussion in the incident, but sat out the rest of the game while undergoing the testing.
Montreal’s Max Domi will have a hearing tomorrow for roughing/ punch to an unsuspecting opponent against Florida’s Aaron Ekblad.— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) September 20, 2018
Regardless of the status of Ekblad, the NHL and the Department of Player Safety must send a clear, and consistent, message with its punishment. For Domi he only has one prior NHL suspension, a one game suspension for instigating a fight with Ryan Garbutt in the final five minutes of a game.
The DoPS must have a recent example to use as a framework for a potential suspension. One comes in the form of Zac Rinaldo’s sucker punch on Samuel Girard last year, and for it Rinaldo was handed a six-game ban.
The saving grace for Domi in comparison to Rinaldo is that the Canadiens forward’s record in terms of NHL discipline is far cleaner.
Despite that, this is something the NHL should be putting their foot down on, and putting it down firmly. This isn’t a hockey play, this is a cheap shot of the highest level, and worse it was on a player with a well-known concussion history.
Fighting may never go away fully from the game, and that’s a pretty well accepted fact despite the piles of evidence showing its negative impact. This however, is not a fight. At no point in time is Ekblad a willing participant until he tries to block his face from Domi’s gloved punches. If Rinaldo got six games for his incident, then Domi should fully be expecting to sit out multiple games for his actions.
This is a chance for the NHL to send a very clear message: this sort of thing should not be acceptable in the modern league or any other in the world.
It’s the NHL and you have to be aware of surroundings, it’s a must for a game played on razor-sharp blades. However, that awareness shouldn’t have to include being punched in the face. Fighting is against the NHL rules, and that extends to everything involved in that.
If the NHL is intent on taking player safety more seriously under George Parros, they’ll hand down a punishment of more than just one or two games, as we’ve seen too often in the past.