The often confounding wheels of NHL justice spun again early Tuesday night as the league fined Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston an undisclosed amount for “player selection and team conduct” and suspended Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel for three preseason games in the wake of Sunday’s brawl between the teams in Air Canada Centre.
The Rolston fine is pretty much unprecedented in league annals. Coaches are routinely fined for their roles in brawls – former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, for instance, got hit $10,000 for the team’s infamous 2007 dust-up with Ottawa – but the term “player selection” has never been used.
It’s a clear reference to Rolston having 6-foot-8, 270-pound enforcer John Scott on the ice when Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, who had the last change as the home coach, was hoping to defuse a volatile situation by having skill players such as Kessel lined up against the Sabres.
Ruff had the last change with the game in Buffalo and put out Patrick Kaleta, Adam Mair and Andrew Peters after the Senators had set their lineup. A full line brawl ensued, featuring goalies Ray Emery and Martin Biron.
This situation was different in that Rolston did not have the last change, nor did he send Scott on. Scott was already on the ice when Buffalo’s Corey Tropp and Jamie Devane were involved in a fight that resulted in Tropp having his head driven into the ice. Rolston opted to keep Scott on, and Scott then went after Kessel before the next faceoff to initiate the melee.
The Sabres had no comment on the league’s rulings Tuesday. Rolston is expected to have his normal briefing with the media this morning following his team’s pregame skate for their exhibition game against Columbus tonight at 7 in First Niagara Center (MSG, Radio 550 AM).
Toronto forward David Clarkson earned an automatic 10-game, regular-season suspension for leaving the bench to join the brawl. Clarkson said after the Leafs’ game Tuesday that he won’t appeal.
Kessel was suspended for his three stick chops at Scott but avoided a ban for any regular season games because he was not a repeat offender. In his video explanation at NHL.com, Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan showed clips of Kessel using a stick in a similar manner in a game last week in Philadelphia but opted not to issue a stiffer penalty.
The lack of a regular-season suspension for Kessel quickly drew reaction around the league, as Vancouver’s Zack Kassian earned a five-game suspension earlier this week – in the regular season – for recklessly swinging his stick and breaking the jaw of Edmonton’s Sam Gagner. The lack of an injury to Scott was likely the prevailing factor in Shanahan’s decision to spare Kessel.