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Paul Byron’s injury at the hands of MacKenzie Weegar leaves a bitter taste

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If this is what “The Code” says is right, then it shouldn’t exist.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Byron charged and hit MacKenzie Weegar in the head several weeks ago in a game that did nothing to quell a very nasty run of games between the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens. Byron, a feisty player in his own right but never considered by anyone to be a dirty player, was promptly suspended three games for the hit. He also immediately apologized, accepted his punishment, and life went on as it should.

Then, on Tuesday night in a meaningless game for a Panthers team out of playoff contention but another do-or-die game for the Canadiens, things went south in a hurry. Weegar, still apparently feeling hard done by Byron, challenged him to a fight to settle the score. In an ugly display, Weegar landed an uppercut, knocking him out of the game, and the current Canadiens road trip, with a suspected concussion.

Weegar, standing 6’0” and 200 pounds, felt strongly enough that a three-game suspension from the Department of Player Safety wasn’t enough, deciding to knock out the 5’9’’, 163-pound Byron, removing a key cog from the Canadiens’ bottom six.

Byron accepted the fight and the risks that go along with that. Everyone does when they willingly drop the gloves. But Weegar’s comments following the game irked me:

So we as fans are supposed to believe that you were not thinking about the incident, and then picked out the guy who hit you, and engaged in a bare-knuckle fight and somehow had zero intention of hurting someone you feel slighted by?

Byron has just one suspension on his record, and was expected to answer the bell for that previous incident — one he was heavily punished for. This is not Tom Wilson, or Radko Gudas, this is a first-time offender who took his suspension and came back without further incident.

Why was he expected to fight? Because of the antiquated rules of yore. “The Code.”

It’s what players and old-time talking heads like to bring up as an excuse when players try to execute on-ice vigilante punishment. The revenge culture serves zero purpose to anyone, and just leads to more injuries, as opposed to deterring anything.

This wasn’t the first time this topic has spilled into the Canadiens-Panthers series this season. It really goes back to the pre-season and Max Domi. Domi’s sucker-punch on Aaron Ekblad kicked off a firestorm, not only in that game (where Paul Byron also engaged in a fight for some reason), but in post-game comments, and into their matchups later in the season. Both Ekblad and Roberto Luongo promised reprisals for Domi when the teams would meet again, and that all fits into the narrative of The Code.

December 28 rolled around, and nothing happened — to Max Domi at least, who is more than willing to stand up for himself when needed. Instead, Aaron Ekblad went after Phillip Danault, got tossed down once (Danault was fined for this), and then promptly was put on the ice by Danault in a fight inside the final three minutes of play.

By the standards of The Code, Ekblad should have fought Domi, but chose the easy way out and tried to throw down with a player who wasn’t even involved in the incident.

A later matchup saw Mike Matheson finally try to get at Domi, and Domi lighting him up verbally in the penalty box for the Panthers defenceman’s refusal to answer for his dirty hit on Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks earleir in the year. This of course was the game where Byron injured Weegar, bringing us back full-circle on this tale of nonsensically enforced rules in hockey.

In the game when the suspension-worthy hit occurred, someone could have stood up for Weegar, but they didn’t, and then lost 5-1. So the Panthers and Canadiens met again a month after this game, and still no one challenged Byron, and it was assumed the ordeal was over. Until Tuesday, when a team not in the playoffs injured someone who is an integral part to a team actually in the hunt.

Weegar is not a superstar. He has fewer career points than Byron has this year alone. To demand justice for a grievance that was rightfully settled prior to this by the Department of Player Safety is lunacy. Where in The Code does it say this has to happen?

Ekblad didn’t follow those rules of combat, and he likely had a much stronger reason to want to get his hands on Domi. Weegar isn’t a major player in this league. Byron is no superstar, but he sure as hell didn’t deserve to be concussed by someone larger than him for a three-month old issue.

If this is what The Code dictates, then the NHL and hockey as a whole has a serious culture issue. Spur-of-the-moment fights will never stop — I’ve long since accepted that — but events like this need to cease.

MacKenzie Weegar can say he feels bad, but it comes out like crocodile tears when the Canadiens lose Paul Byron for a playoff push, and Weegar is at home golfing.

Justice served? Hardly.