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Sean Leahy

The utter ridiculousness of a Keith Ballard suspension

Sean Leahy
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Imagine a world where the NHL handed out suspensions for hypothetical situations:

Jeepers, what if Keith Ballard's(notes) baseball swing connected with an Atlanta Thrashers player? Oh noes! Not Chris Simon(notes)-Ryan Holweg Part II!

This is the world that The Hockey News' Ken Campbell wants to live in:

Of course Ballard had no ill intent toward anything but the goalpost when he swung his stick. These guys never "intend" to hurt anybody when they do these things. But how often do we hear that as an excuse for the things players do on the ice? Personally, I'm getting a little tired of hearing, "Gee, you hate to see a guy get carried off on a stretcher, but...

The fact is, these kinds of "accidents" occur in hockey far more than they do in any other professional sport and too often they are overlooked because of the age-old excuse that players are reacting to an ultra-competitive situation and that will always be one of the hazards of the game.

What would Campbell have written if one of Alex Ovechkin's(notes) overly enthusiastic goal celebrations nicked up one of his teammates in the process? (We know what Don Cherry's reaction would be.)

The great Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail agrees with Campbell in that Ballard should be banned, and is sticking by the fundamental principle that players should be responsible for their sticks at all times. (The NHL Rulebook, however, specifically includes the words "opposing player" and "opponent" in the definition of each stick foul.)

Ballard is now stuck with having to talk about that moment of poor judgment for the rest of his career and it's a highlight that will appear on sports blooper reels right after Patrik Stefan's open-goal miss in 2007. He had to watch his goaltender being taken off the ice on a stretcher because of something he did and since Monday night, angry mobs have formed to call for a suspension.

Yeah, because the Florida Panthers losing their starting goaltender isn't punishment enough, there are those that wanted them to lose their best defenseman as well.

What Ballard did was careless, stupid and whatever other synonym you want to use, but most importantly, and understood by everyone, is that it was an accident. It was a moment that he and Vokoun discussed on a plane back to South Florida Monday night, with the Panthers goaltender laying zero blame on Ballard.

Do you think, after Monday night, that Ballard will consider breaking a stick again over the goal post in frustration? Likely not. Maybe he'll wait a few seconds next time he's angry, to at least ensure that the coast is clear.

Campbell ends his pleas by saying that the NHL missed the chance to a send a "statement" to all players that such behavior won't be tolerated. Reading what Ballard had to say after the game, it sounds like the lesson was learned. From George Richard at On Frozen Pond:

"When we found out he was OK, it was tough playing that night not knowing what was going on. He sat next to me on the plane and we talked for a while. He was more concerned about me. He was 'are you OK,' kind of laughing it off. He made it a lot easier on me. I had no idea what to say to him. It was stupid on my part and ended in a bad way.

"I had no idea. I saw it on tape and it looks awful. Sad thing is people see this, kids see this and think that this is how pros act. It's not something that I've ever done and will ever do again. I am terribly sorry. when it happened, I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't realize that I did hit him. I didn't know until I got to the bench and saw the trainers hop over. Then the guys told me. At that point, I was in shock."

The only possibly punishment the NHL or Panthers could have even considered was a fine for conduct detrimental to the League/team, but then a Pandora's Box will be open going forward every time a player whacks his stick over a goalpost or against the boards. From there, we'd be having non-stop discussions about teams and the League handling of those types of fines, similar to what we do now regarding suspensions.

Let's save the outrage for the League's real hot button issue of headshots when it comes to supplementary discipline and not get ourselves up in a bind over a bizarre incident that now has those like Campbell and Duhatschek calling for punishment over an action that occurs nightly.

Hockey players being hockey players, since Vokoun has quickly forgiven him, the only thing going forward that Ballard has to worry about are the various jokes and pranks that his Panther teammates might pull.

I'm picturing a joke somehow related to Vincent Van Gogh, or maybe a cameo on the show "Scare Tactics."

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