Fighting is slowly but surely being weaned out of the game, but hockey’s “code” isn’t going the way of the dodo nearly quick enough.
At least according to NHL super agent JP Barry.
Barry’s CAA client Paul Byron, who has 15 goals and 30 points with the Canadiens this season, was on the other end of a brutal MacKenzie Weegar knockout punch in a meaningless first-period scrap on Tuesday night.
The sight of his 5-foot-9, 163-pound client hobbling off the ice after getting pounded by the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Weegar had Barry foaming at the mouth.
“This wasn’t a hockey fight. Paul knew he had to deal with it then or likely later,” Barry said via text to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.
“Paul probably gives up five inches and 50 pounds to a very tough player – how is this the code?”
The “it” Barry is referring to is a dangerous head hit Byron laid on Weegar back in mid-January — one that saw the Canadiens forward serve a three-game suspension and publicly apologize for the incident.
The NHL’s outdated, unwritten “code,” which has seemingly been around longer than the league itself, has always put immense pressure on players to “step up” and “answer the bell” following a hit that may be deemed questionable or dirty.
(Even clean, legal hits often result in one player challenging another to a knuckle dance.)
Whether it’s later that game, the next time the two teams face, or even the following season, you are expected to own up to your mistake by exchanging face-punches with another adult human being.
Yes, it is as stupid as it sounds.
And the players who are expected to occasionally or regularly enforce the game’s archaic, vigilante justice-driven “code” are often victims of the culture, too. After this particular incident, TV cameras caught Weegar looking quite distraught as he watched the replay of Byron struggling to stand after the fight.
According La Presse’s Richard Labbe, Weegar said after the game that he asked Byron to fight, but he “would have let it go” had the Canadiens forward declined.
“I simply just asked him if he wanted to own up to the hit. I respect him for that, I hope he’s OK,’’ Weegar said to Labbe.
And therein lies the issues. Why should a player have to “own up” to a hit that happened two-and-a-half months ago? One that already cost Byron three games and a boat load of money — an incident that he strongly owned up for by publicly apologizing and addressing Weegar directly when he didn’t have to.
Why should Byron have to fight someone with four inches and 40 pounds on him when he already served his sentence? His agent is wondering the exact same thing.
“Player Safety already gave Paul three games for an improper check and now the ‘code’ gets to give him several more? In the real world of justice there is protection for that — it’s called the rule against double jeopardy,’’ Barry said.
“I truly believe this exact situation is Exhibit A for re-examining our current rules for fighting,” said Barry. “If the fight is patently retribution for something that happened long before this game was ever played how is that allowed to occur without being addressed?”
Barry was bringing the fire — as many more agents and executives should.
“I’m sure we will hear from many others tomorrow (Wednesday) who see things much differently than me and will say ‘look at Paul Byron, what a warrior, he answered the bell.’ These are the people that believe in the old `code.’
“It’s time for Player Safety to be the new `code.’ What really matters is eliminating avoidable concussions wherever we can in our player safety rules going forward.”
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