December 08, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
We're not sure how many suspensions the NHL has handed out for random acts of goon-ery in the last decade, but we can safely label the number as "plentiful."
All of the following despicable acts resulted in some sort of discipline from the League. As you'll see in the countdown, that punishment didn't always fit the crime; instead, it fit the reputation of the criminal or the level of castigation handed out for similar incidents that happened around the same time.
Here are the 10 biggest NHL goon moments in the last decade ...
Sweet, glorious line brawl fun.
The brawl began after the ensuring faceoff when Buffalo's Adam Mair(notes) punched Senators' star Jason Spezza(notes) in the head. All 10 players then squared off, while Biron skated to center, where he was met by Emery. Both goalies traded several punches before Peters took on Emery, landing several heavy blows.
Both coaches then got into a yelling match with Ottawa's Bryan Murray standing on the side boards at the end of the Senators' bench and pointing at Buffalo's Lindy Ruff. The game was delayed for about 20 minutes while officials sorted out the penalties.
Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff would be fined $10,000 by the NHL for telling his players "go out and run 'em." Awesome.
In Feb. 2001, Nolan of the San Jose Sharks took out Dallas Stars forward Grant Marshall with a blatant forearm to the head as Marshall was leaving on a line change. Marshall's head hit the ice, giving him a concussion and earning him a stretcher ride off the ice.
Nolan was suspended for 11 games by the NHL, which the Sharks fought to get reduced to no avail -- mostly because Marshall only missed one game and scored a goal against the Sharks while Nolan was suspended.
Luckily, this led to Nolan's classic line to CBC Sports: "Yeah, knocked some hands into him."
Looking back at it, the skate-stomp on Ruutu doesn't exactly look like grounds for a 30-game suspension ... until you remember that Simon was suspended for 25 games earlier in 2007, which is something you might be reading more about in a bit. Context, and prior convictions, are paramount for the NHL in its disciplinary process.
The Islanders protested the suspension, but it became the tipping point in Simon's turbulent NHL career. He sought counseling through the NHL, and ended up being traded to the Minnesota Wild later in the season before eventually leaving the League for Russia.
Pronger could have had his own worst-of-the-decade list based on his rap sheet, but this one was by far the strangest and arguably the most reckless.
In March 2008 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Pronger was tangled up with Ryan Kelser of the Vancouver Canucks and did what any well-adjusted adult would do, which is step on him with his skate blade.
At first, there was no suspension for Pronger because there wasn't suitable video evidence of the incident. That was until new video footage miraculously appeared, and Pronger was handed an eight-game suspension for his skate stomp.
We could have included Pronger's epic elbow on Dean McAmmond on this list ... but Dean-o was involved in another infamous incident that did make the cut.
Note to self: WWE-style flying shoulder blocks are generally frowned upon by the NHL.
In a 2007-08 preseason game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Ottawa Senators, Steve Downie launched himself at Dean McAmmond behind the net and injured the Senators forward on a stretcher-worthy hit.
Unfortunately for Downie, he picked the wrong preseason to pull this stunt. From Canwest:
The league had targeted dangerous hits, in particular hits to the head, coming into this season. To that end, it sent out a video with examples of 52 hits that would be considered dangerous and subject to suspension. It also set out five criteria to determine punishment.
Downie's hit on McAmmond met four of the five criteria, said Campbell, who met with Downie and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren on Friday morning in Toronto.
Downie was deemed to have targeted McAmmond's head. He left his feet to deliver the hit. He delivered it to an unsuspecting opponent (since McAmmond had his head down). And the hit was late, long after McAmmond released the puck.
Downie was given a 20-game suspension, which set the groundwork for Jesse Boulerice's(notes) 25-game suspension for the newly reestablished Broad Street Bullies in Oct. 2007. It wouldn't be the last time Downie would make disciplinary news.
While playing with the Phoenix Coyotes, Brad May was handed 20 games, the fourth-longest suspension in NHL history at the time, after his baseball swing to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Steve Heinze.
The severity of the suspension likely had something to do with the infamous Marty McSorley/Donald Brashear(notes) stick-swinging incident occurring in the previous season (see below). Like McSorley, May apologized and claimed he was just trying to tap Heinze on the shoulder with his stick.
At the end of Game 4 in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils, Domi viciously elbowed Niedermayer behind the play, sending Scotty Stevens into one of his patented tirades from the Devils bench. Niedermayer was knocked out and suffered a concussion; Domi was suspended for the remainder of the postseason
Niedermayer explained what led up to the incident to the New York Times:
Niedermayer spoke of a remark he said Domi made in Game 2. Domi's comment came after a hard hit by Niedermayer on Domi along the boards, in which Niedermayer's stick caught Domi in the face.
''He said he was going to take a suspension on me,'' said Niedermayer, who has not skated since receiving Domi's shot to the face in the final minute of Game 4.
Domi and Niedermayer, incidentally, were both clients of agent Don Meehan at the time.
3. Marty McSorley's stick foul on Donald Brashear
A Feb. 2000 incident that was No. 7 on our Stories of the Decade list, McSorley swung his stick and hit Brashear's helmet, sending him to the ice where he badly hit his head a second time and suffered a Grade 3 concussion. McSorley was suspended indefinitely by the NHL. He was charged with assault and was found guilty of assault with a weapon, serving 18 months of probation.
McSorley testified that he was trying to tap Brashear on the sleeve and was unaware he had even knocked him on the noggin.
March 8, 2007 remains Exhibit A in the arguments against frontier justice in the NHL. The New York Rangers' Hollweg hit Simon of the New York Islanders from behind. Simon got up, located Hollweg and then exacted revenge with a two-handed hatchet to his face.
Simon received a 25-game suspension that included any postseason games. The Islanders and Coach Ted Nolan protested the punishment, suggesting that Simon could have been adversely affected by a concussion on the initial hit and that Hollweg didn't suffer a significant injury on the play. (Although he did later find work as a piñata ...)
It's hard to know which image has become more iconic: Bertuzzi yanking the jersey of the Colorado Avalanche forward to slow him before punching him in the back of the head and then driving him into the ice; or that of Bertuzzi openly weeping at the press conference following what would become a 17-month forced absence from hockey.
As we said when we named The Bertuzzi Incident as the second-biggest story of the last decade: It wasn't just about the act. Yes, it was a vicious, intentional act of arch-goonery that ended an opponent's career. But the reason it tops this list is the unbelievable impact it had in the courts of law and public opinion.
The lawsuits and countersuits that are still being decided. The "A Few Good Men"/"Did you order the Code Red?" accusations of grand conspiracy. At the same time, the raging public debates about violence in the game, the culture of hockey and our media culture as a whole. To better understand that last point, check out Bill Simmons's "Rubberneck Nation" column on Bertuzzi.
For all the talk about the lockout starting a new era for the NHL, the fact that it began only a few months after Bertuzzi/Moore in March 2004 is sometimes overlooked. It took an event of that magnitude to dull the painful fallout from this historic low-point for hockey.