The NHL has a rulebook that is 156 pages thick.
There are rules for eye gouging, the use of abusive gestures, altercations with spectators, head butting, biting, even carrying two sticks.
Nowhere in that rulebook does it state that a goaltender shall be fined or suspended for leaving his crease and beating up on an opposing goaltender in the third period of a 7-0 game.
Which is what Flyers goaltender Ray Emery did Friday night when he skated the length of the ice and engaged in a fight with whom he called an unwilling opponent, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
Fortunately, Holtby, who has been in a few scraps in his career, was not seriously injured in the fight. If he had suffered a concussion or broken an orbital bone at the hands of Emery maybe the league would have taken a different course of action than the one it took, which was to allow Emery to play in Saturday night’s game against the Devils in Newark.
When I reached out to the NHL on Saturday, I was told that the officials handled Friday night’s altercation appropriately by giving Emery 2 minutes for leaving the crease, 2 minutes for instigating, 5 minutes for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct, and a game misconduct for being the “aggressor.”
I was also told that as a referee, Francois St. Laurent’s responsibility was to survey the ice for additional penalties, not to break up a lopsided fight.
And while that may be true, I still think St. Laurent could have and should have stopped that fight sooner than he did.
It was also brought to my attention on Saturday that under Rule 46.17 a player deemed to be an aggressor in an altercation for the third time in one regular season shall be suspended for his team’s next two regular season games.
And since Friday night was the first time this season Emery has been ruled an aggressor, his assault on Holtby was not considered a suspendable offense.
But wait …
After digging through that same rulebook, Rule 27.6 Leaving The Goal Crease states that in addition to receiving a minor penalty for leaving his crease, an offending goaltender “shall be subject to a fine of two hundred dollars [$200] and this incident shall be reported to the Commissioner for such further disciplinary action as may be required.”
In other words, Gary Bettman had the opportunity to step in and give Emery an additional fine or suspension and did not.
Instead, Emery, who was shamefully given a third star of the game Friday night by Philadelphia Daily News beat writer Frank Saravalli, was issued a fine but was permitted to play for the Flyers on Saturday night and received a first star of the game in a 1-0 win in Newark.
Interestingly, Bettman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Saturday that “there was no rule violated that warranted a suspension, but it's something that we have to look at and see what, if anything, needs to be done about it.
“It's something that I'm sure will be a topic of discussion.”
On Sunday, a league spokesman said the word “Commissioner” is cited in many parts of the NHL rulebook and that in many cases Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan or Senior Executive Vice President Colin Campbell are designated the role of commissioner on rulings.
In the case of Friday night’s altercations, Shanahan made the decision that no supplementary discipline was warranted.
Regardless, what happened in Philadelphia on Friday night was a disgrace. The third-period scrap between Wayne Simmonds and Tom Wilson should have been the Flyers’ answer to a 7-0 drubbing in front of a restless crowd that was chanting for general manager Paul Holmgren to be fired.
The fact that Emery took the opportunity to single-handedly turn the game into a three-ring circus should have been addressed by the NHL – if not Shanahan, than by Bettman.
Let’s face it, if Emery doesn’t skate the length of the ice to fight Holtby, Vinny Lecavalier probably doesn’t miss Saturday night’s game with facial contusions from his fight with Steve Oleksy, Capitals rookie defenseman Alex Urbom doesn’t get into his first NHL fight against Brayden Schenn, and Capitals rookie center Michael Latta doesn’t have to face questions about not defending his goalie when St. Laurent was keeping him from doing just that.
Unless I’m reading the rulebook incorrectly, the NHL could have suspended Emery for his actions, sending a message of intolerance to the 31-year-old goaltender and the rest of the NHL.
Instead, Emery was allowed to bask in the glow of a first star selection Saturday night when he should have been feeling the sting of a fine or sitting at home serving a suspension.