Sam Donnellon: Primeau wants NHL to come down hard on Penguins' hit men
HIS NAME was announced before the madness really began Sunday afternoon. Keith Primeau waved to the fans from a luxury box in the Wells Fargo Center, waved to them like a retired gladiator would, soaking it all in as he continues to savor his good health these days.
HIS NAME was announced before the madness really began Sunday afternoon.
Keith Primeau waved to the fans from a luxury box in the Wells Fargo Center, waved to them like a retired gladiator would, soaking it all in as he continues to savor his good health these days.
And then he sat down and watched his past play out in front of him, watched Arron Asham punch Brayden Schenn's unprotected head into the ice after putting a stick to his neck, watched James Neal flatten Sean Couturier with one bash to the upper body, and moments later drop Claude Giroux like an out-on-his-feet boxer with another one. He watched guys pull hair, rip shirts, break sticks on each other, watched an endless parade of players skate to the penalty box and into their dressing rooms.
"I get it," Primeau was saying Monday. "It's an emotional time of the year. But I'm not one to approve some of the stupidity and label it 'good, old-time hockey.' In every one of those incidents, they clearly had a moment to think about and react to the situation. Not just in the Flyers game but some of the others. I just hope the league continues to filter out that type of behavior with proper punishment. Ultimately it's going to happen, but it continues to diminish if you take control of the situation."
He was outside as we spoke, on a gorgeous bright day, the kind of day that would drive someone suffering from postconcussion syndrome back into the house. Primeau, whose career was curtailed in 2005 by a series of concussions at age 34, still has good days and bad days and good weeks and bad weeks, still is the poster boy for what the NHL purports to be trying to avoid.
"Right now I'm feeling well," he said. "Best I've felt in a while. So I am taking advantage of it."
Today, NHL safety czar Brendan Shanahan will decide what punishments to administer for the hits by Asham and Neal. Asham, a marginal, fourth-liner whose primary purpose is the rough stuff, is almost definitely headed for a suspension. But the announcement Monday that Neal would face separate hearings for those blows administered on the same shift suggests Shanahan and/or the league is looking for a way to separate the two hits, and thus only fine the Pens forward, who has five points in this series.
"I think that's a very dangerous precedent if you don't hand down a suspension there," Primeau said. "Because guys will continue to be willing to make that sacrifice if they think it's for a just cause. But if you start taking away their opportunity as to what they are trying to accomplish, they'll have second thoughts."
To the point: Neal sure seemed to be trying to eliminate the Flyers' best player and the player who has shut down Pittsburgh's best player, Evgeni Malkin, in one shift. It's quite a two-fer. And although both seem fine, no one is quite sure how Giroux or Couturier will respond when the series resumes on Wednesday.
"We've all been there when the emotional part of the game takes over," Primeau said. "But there's a proper way to do it without crossing that line. There's a way to be involved in the outcome and in all aspects without trying to maim somebody or separate somebody's head from their shoulders."
Giroux, of course, suffered a concussion earlier this season. After Neal elbowed his head, Giroux took a stride or two then dropped to his knees before wobbling to his skates. There were just under 5 minutes remaining in the game and he did not return to the ice, but when asked about that Monday he said, "I'm fine."
Shanahan's rationale for only fining Nashville's Shea Weber after he punched Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass in Game 1 of that series was that Zetterberg did not seem seriously hurt. New York's Carl Hagelin got a three-game suspension for his hit to the head of Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson because the Ottawa captain was diagnosed with a concussion.
Miraculously, Alfredsson was a game-time decision before being ruled out of Monday's game against the Rangers, but Shanahan - and a league headed up by two lawyers - wasn't taking any chances. Or so it would seem.
I predict, and I fear, that today Shanahan will go the route of no harm, no foul. Just the league maximum fine of $2,500 per infraction. About the price of taking the team out to dinner.
Provided they don't all have headaches.
"To me, at the end of the day, players need to continue to be held accountable for their actions," Primeau said. "And this is the time of the year when the league, and Brendan in particular, will earn his keep. Because if you continue to beat a certain drum, you've got to make sure that you beat that drum in these situations.
"I thought Brendan did a tremendous job all season long. He still has his hands tied a little bit as far as the league is concerned, but I thought he was very sincere and genuine and unbiased in his decision-making in terms of fines and suspensions. And I just hope he doesn't change that course or that pattern just because the stakes have increased."