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Photo Credit: © John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Three Thoughts: No place for it

If there’s any reasonable argument that the kind of hit from behind that Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks laid on Matt Benning of the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday at the SAP Center has a place in the game of hockey at any level, I haven’t heard it. Yet there it was, right in front of referee Graham Skilliter early in the second period of a game the Sharks went on to win 5-2. No call.

Kane, making his debut with the Sharks after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, sent Benning into the corner boards head-first with a push from behind – a crosscheck to the numbers about six feet from the boards — on a play that led to the 1-1 goal by Joe Pavelski. The good news is Benning managed to wobble to his feet by the time Pavelski put the puck in the net. He got up.

That kind of hit – a push from behind near the boards – has been burned into my brain for more than 30 years now, dating back to a WHL game between the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors in March of 1987 when Troy Edwards did the same to Brad Hornung of the Pats. Hornung went head-first into the end boards. He never got up. Horning was rendered a quadriplegic.  I was covering the WHL in Kamloops then and I’ve never forgotten it.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the same kind of push from behind since then. I’ve lost count. A lot of people asked via Twitter and other social media Tuesday if it’s going to take a player NOT getting up for the NHL to get serious about taking that kind of play out of the game. Well, that’s already happened and yet plays like that, like the hit on Benning, remain. Skilliter was right there. No call. I don’t get it.

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NO EXCUSE FOR IT

The NHL even Tweeted video of the play as a goal highlight. For his part, Kane offered what I thought was a pretty lame take on his interpretation of the play.  “It was tricky, but they hard-rimmed it and it hit the ref,” he said. “(Benning) kind of stopped quickly and lost his balance and I just kind of bumped him a little bit. Probably looked worse than it was, but was able to create the turnover and we put it in the back of the net.”

In the Regina incident so many years ago, Horning swallowed his tongue. Regina’s trainer grabbed a carpet knife from the arena Zamboni driver and cut an airway into Hornung’s trachea to keep him alive until help arrived. It was ghastly. Benning, and Kane, got lucky Tuesday. Oilers’ coach Todd McLellan, at least on the record, downplayed the incident. “They scored on the play, the player that was cross-checked into the boards was unavailable to help on the play, so I would say that had something to do with it,” he said.

You think? That kind of hit has to be eliminated from the game at every level and it has to be done now. Let’s not wait until the next player doesn’t get up.

ABOUT MILAN

Jan 6, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) during the game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Oilers 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Benning showed a lot of brass by mixing it up with Kane on a later shift after he’d cleared his head. While I suspect Benning would have been overmatched had the gloves come off and the two not been separated by the linesmen, the fact he didn’t back down is a good sign. I thought Milan Lucic, who was on the ice with Kane right after the cheap shot on Benning, should have come calling. Send a message. I’m not sure why Lucic, or somebody else, didn’t.

It’s been 27 games without a goal and counting for Lucic, who had his chances and banged a shot off the post, but no cigar. While it goes without saying Lucic is struggling mightily, you can see that he’s hustling and working. The problem is results – at times, it’s been an ordeal for him just to give or take a pass – and that’s the bottom line. The way I see it, it wouldn’t have been a bad time to take a poke at Kane. Get something done.

THE NEW KID

I can’t say Pontus Aberg stood out to me in his Oiler debut after coming over from Nashville at the trade deadline until he set up Jesse Puljujarvi for the 4-2 goal six minutes into the third period. Sweet feed. Smart play. It’ll take some time for Aberg to get used to new linemates and settle in, but he looks quick, as billed, and picked up that point in 12:56 of ice time. We’ll see lots of more of him, as well as Ethan Bear, down the stretch. By all reports, Bear is a terrific kid. We’ll see how far away from making a serious run at a roster spot next season he is in the remaining games.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Hemmercules

    Its so sad that articles like this need to be written so soon after what we saw last season. Lats season Kane would have been picked on all game and likely beaten up at some point. If Maroon was here he probably would have done something last night. The Oilers are the joke of the league for so many reasons already, now they are pussies too.

  • WhoreableGuy

    Remember the whole “Wideman Conspiracy” the Flames fans used to whine about the reason they were called for so many infractions? Then Brian Burke and company went to meet with the NHL about the officiating?

    Well I’m not saying we should stoop to the Flames level of whining – but really I think it seemed to work for them.

    There is CLEARLY an issue against the Oilers. Are they mad that they got four #1 overalls? I’m not sure. Something has to be done, fly to New York like the Flames did and raise a stink. Hell there’s VIDEO EVIDENCE every single damn game.

    DO SOMETHING.

    • Silkymits

      The flames were not whining and oilers fans are not whining
      Do assault victims whine to the police
      Do African Americans whine about police brutality?
      No it is not whining to point out a injustice
      The way the league is be officiated is the equivalent of holding someone down and letting people beat on them

        • That's My Point

          The RCMP or local policing should step in and charge Kane. I believe it’s happened before.
          Maybe they can also investigate Bettman for fixing the refs against the Oilers.
          Are there team owners or NHL head office officials betting on these games?
          Can’t see any other reason for the B.S. that is occurring on the ice. It is every game.
          Sometime’s it’s even missed when the Oilers slash someone’s stick in half like at last nights game.
          The Draisaitl crosscheck for a penalty after allowing Kane’s assault?
          Then McDavid gets an elbow to the “head”; perfectly legal?

          • Anthony Harmon

            Are we actually serious here? At best of these message boards are the professional wrestling of factual commentary. I’m sure 99% of us don’t really believe what we write or read here, but it’s messages like this that suggest we should just really take a step back and think about how outlandish this is really getting. Bettman and the NHL against the Oilers? Is that why they gifted us with about a dozen first overall picks recently? If we look outside are tiny little woe-is-me bubble, we would notice every other team thinks that that the NHL is against them as well. I know this is all fun banter, but at some point we need to take off the tinfoil hats and try to inject a little bit of reality. Please?

    • Hemmercules

      Pretty sure Calgary has the most penalty minutes out of any team in the league. Good job Burke, seems like flying across the country to whine to someones face really worked.

        • btrain

          I assume one of those players you refer to is Matthew Tkatchuk. Who certainly falls under the category of a player you hate to play against, but wouldn’t mind if he were on your team. What bothers me most about Tkatchuk, who is a known agitator, is that he is able to draw so many penalties and skilled guys like McDavid, and probably Gaudreau as well, only get a fraction of what could/should be penalties called. Its seems like skilled players, who just go about their business, who are unlikely to complain much, don’t get the calls.

      • QuitForRealThisTime

        Flames have the 3rd most power play time, Oiler have the least amount of power play time….Flames are ninth in penalty kill time…the Oil are 19th.. So the team with least amount of PP opportunities gets to watch a play like this go uncalled and we are not supposed to think it is conspiracy?

    • McDavid's Comet

      Agreed, it seems these days the only way to inspire change is to accuse people publicly and embarrass them. The league is obviously not recognizing that hit as a dirty play, intentional or not and are not going to do any thing about it. I’m curious, was there any repercussions against Calgary for going public like that?

      • Silkymits

        If I’m on the players association that is what I want from the next lock out the ability to call out poor officiating with out a fine and accountability for reffs

        • McDavid's Comet

          The NHL needs to start holding the refs accountable when situations like last night occur, one would think since they control the game to some degree, player safety would be a priority. Of course it would help if the NHL recognized plays like last night dangerous too but apperently they don’t.

    • GK1980

      “Are they mad that they got four #1 overalls?” That’s the irony of the whole thing. If the refs keep reffing like this it will definitely aid the oilers in getting another first round pick.

  • Rama Lama

    I’m just tired of all the non-calls on McDavid. The missed call on Benning was just plain stupid……..not sure why the referees seem to let other teams take so many liberties with Connor, but that’s why we have Lucic.

    Someone needs to tell him over and over again…….every time someone takes a cheap shot at Connor go over there and give him the stink eye. It’s not about fighting, it’s about policing Milan!!

  • hagar

    I felt horrible for Benning on that play. It is scary as hell when something like that happens, your heart jumps through your chest when you get put in a health threatening position like he was. To get up shaken and not see a refs arm up would be super anticlimactic. Someone does something to you that threatens your livelihood or live for that matter, and it’s hard not to want to pound the crap out of the guy. Super surprised someone didn’t pound Kanes face in.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Bad teams don’t get the calls. It’s an old adage and now that the Oilers are a bad team again, they’re not going to get the calls, or the benefit of the doubt. As we’ve seen in the last few months, this not only applies to non-descript defencemen like Matt Benning, but also the reigning Hart Trophy winner of the league, Connor McDavid.

    It’s not right and it’s not fair and … most importantly … it’s not safe … but it’s been the mindset of officials in this league since Time Immemorial. Teams in playoff races get cut slack. The ones that aren’t, don’t.

      • Hemmercules

        They will never win the battle against the refs. Refs have been making bad calls or years, it wont just suddenly end. The league has always been a self enforced league and its an absolute disgrace that a bottom feeding team wont take a misconduct to enforce a bad hit on one of their players. Im not saying go Bertuzzi on the guy but seriously, Kane needed a punch in the face at some point. With Maroon gone, Lucic absolutely has to do something there. A supposed leader on the team, sure.

    • corky

      Maybe some of the smart a$$ crap the oilers are doing are being noticed ref wide. Goes back to Maroon skating away from a lecture from a ref last playoffs to McD and his display last month. Oil should just play hard and make their good fortune. Refs arent the main reason Oil miss the playoffs this season.

      • McDavid's Comet

        Refs are professionals, they are not going to be vindictive because players disagree with them on the ice (unless he gets cross checked), they will hand out game misconducts or unsportsmanlike penalties and be done with it. Refs shouldn’t even be considered a reason for the Oilers poor season, that’s on the players and management.

    • nijames

      This is an excellent post, one of the few good posts on this site. It is not right and it is not fair but the league has always been officiated this way. Teams out of playoff races are rarely given the benefit of the doubt. The refs are also gearing up for the playoffs in which we can all agree nothing gets called short of manslaughter. The closer we get to the playoffs the less we can expect from the refs. Good teams deal with it bad teams whine about it

  • the dope $teez

    Guys, clearly the directive to give the refereeing advantage to Oilers opponents comes right from the top. I dunno if Katz did anything to Bettman or what, but there is no other explanation for why we see what we see from the refs (and Toronto on challenges) on a nightly basis.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    This $h*t show is going to get even worse the last 20 or so games if last night’s lineup is any indication. It’ll be almost impossible to watch!

  • Oil9744

    Yup, agreed with it all. Lucic even had the nerve to “call out” his own teammates on the bench to get it going, after his total crap play lately and not sticking up for Benning especially, I was hoping someone would tell him to shut up on the bench, I’m losing a lot of respect for the guy and I was a Lucic fan before all this crap he’s doing now, or I guess I should say not doing.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      This team is divided. Milan Lucic hasn’t scored in 27 games, he is struggling and cant give or take a pass. He was played over 19 mins last night on the 1st line. He didn’t do a damn thing last night which was a positive contribution. Then he starts jawing in Connot McDavids face in the 3rd.
      Peter Chiarelli’s 42 M mistake.

    • polarcap

      Lucic was never as good as first posted, nor as bad as his present record shows. High expectations come with high $$$ and long term contracts. He never could live up to those expectations as a first line winger. His time on the 1st line is short. As he moves down the line up expectations will fall and he will adjust to a new role similar to the role Hendrickson played.

  • Smuckers

    Yeah not sure why Lucic or Nurse didn’t go and talk to Kane.. and by talk I mean drop him like a sack of potatoes. Were they worried about a penalty? The season is done so may as well set the tone for next season and not worry about skinned knuckles.

  • hammer313

    Well done Robin, the Oilers regressed so badly this year. Seems something went very wrong last summer that was left to fester, or in the words of the GM, “This group will have to figure it out”. I may be wrong, but that did not work out so well and this gm should have done his job, much, much better! All I can say is if Chia is unwilling to, or mentally cannot, damn well better find someone that can. Thank you

  • Beer_League_Ringer

    A few Oilers did have chats with Kane, the most notable being Benning and Nurse. Did I want to see Lucic pick a fight the next shift and get an instigator? Tough call. On one hand, it seems obvious to send a strong message. On the other, it had just become a 1-1 game and there were no “fighters” on the ice for the dirty play/goal. We (fans) don’t know what, if anything, was said on the Oilers bench. For example, a quick “stay cool, we’ll get ’em on the scoreboard boys” from a leader, captain, or coach can direct the response, or lack there of. I strongly suspect something like that happened. However, if Darnell or Looch were on the ice right at the time of the dirty play, I’m sure the response would have been immediate and violent. My opinion: going down a man for an instigator infraction on the same (dirty) play your opponent ties the game is different than doing it a shift or two later. Does anyone else see it this way?

    • Hemmercules

      If they were battling for a playoff spot I would say yes, cooler heads might prevail and probably stupid to take an instigator there. Right now these guys need to play for each other, not the standings. Letting your man get bullied and just brushing it off like nothing doesn’t build mutual respect for your teammates.

      • Beer_League_Ringer

        Try to take another perspective. None of us were on the bench. As such, What if Connor, the captain and leader of team, said something like I suggested (or maybe a coach)? That would explain the lack of reaction just as well as the default interpretation here – that the team failed to do the right thing – they didn’t stand up for each other. What if Looch yapping at Connor was because of this as well (“c’mon man, let me do it”)? The point is no one knows but them, and all the “X” is bad for the team, or “Y” is bad for morale is just the reaction of (justifiably) disappointed fans after a horrible non-call and a 2nd period team collapse. I’m frustrated too, but there is no definitive evidence for much of what the posts in this thread are claiming as fact. Does what you think the Oilers “need” to do right now include selfish retaliatory penalties in a close game? It was a 1-1 game at that point and the Oilers were out-playing the Sharks. Teams want to win games. Period. If the focus shifted from winning as a team, to individuals exacting revenge, your mutual respect for teammates assertion is now inverse. Perspective…

    • nijames

      If they were a team in contention for a playoff spot maybe a we will get them on the scoreboard may be relevant. When you are dealing with a 26th place team that statement doesn’t hold any credibility. The Oilers can’t get anybody on the scoreboard so you may as well take the extra minor and go after the player.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    The only way to get the league’s attention is to embarrass them into action. When the safety (and lives, really) of your players are in question, that’s when you say: “We’ve had enough of this garbage.”, and you pull your players off the ice. Forfeit the game, sacrifice the meaningless two points, and get their attention the hard way. It’s not quitting or petulance, it’s an investment in every player’s safety.

  • btrain

    Well worthy points to make. Happy Benning didn’t get seriously hurt. I am not just disappointed in a general response to the hit, but more so an immediate response. That is the type of play, that teammates are justified to forget about what is going on elsewhere and rush in to avenge the dangerous hit. This results in a reduced likelihood of a goal being scored on the play as it forces the official to actually stop play (which should have been done in the first place).

  • grumpyKoala

    You got to belive Benning jump someone sister, no one stood for him and that is completely unnaceptable. You can blame Looch, I do, he would never have that let go when he was in Boston, But again he would also have everyone standing for him. This team have very few player that are ready to go the distance. If the player on ice do not get upset, how do we expect the nhl will.

  • KennyG

    Glad to see Benning pick himself up and totally embarrassed as a fan that not one single player stood up to the ass clown. I’m not watching another game until someone is fired.

    • Welcome to the club, my honey do list for spring is almost completed. I feel the same so chances are we wont watch any games next year either. Tenure is given to incompetents in Oilerville, I don’t really expect anyone to be held accountable as per usual.
      #stillnotwatching

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I remember one of Nurse’s first NHL games, think it was preseason a few years ago, Kane was being Kane in front of the net, Nurse came over and got in his face. You could clearly see him ask Kane “You wanna go?” and Kane skated away. I wish Nurse didn’t give him a choice last night, and just started throwing them.

    Was Maroon the unofficial balls of the team? Because Lucic, Nurse and Khaira all did nothing. Maroon fought Chara for getting too handsy with Connor, he would’ve taken Kane apart. I think Kassian would have probably done something, that guy has no qualms about dropping them with whoever.

    Maybe Lucic needs a tilt with Ryan Reeves, it seems like he took Lucic’s title as the toughest guy in the league. A heavyweight scrap might do Lu some good.

  • I honestly don’t think paralysis or death would compel the NHL to call the game the way it should be called. A tap on the thigh is a penalty, but you can cross check someone from behind into the boards then score, or you can level a guy 2 seconds after he’s made a pass and it’s not a call. The whole finishing your check thing is bogus to me. If a guy has the puck, you can hit him, from the side, or the front. If he doesnt’ have the puck, you can’t hit him. It’s interference. If you’ve put him under enough pressure that he’s forced to make a bad pass, you’ve done the job, you don’t get to crush him afterwards.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      Oh man, that was a dirty, selfish play. I had forgotten about it. Dirtier than Kane’s hit last night. Maroon is a classy, team-first guy, but that play was not an example of those qualities.

  • Derian Hatcher

    “I think the Oilers have been missing a little bit of attitude and a little bit of swagger over the last couple of years, and that’s something that I bring to a team as well. … I’m excited for another fresh start as well.”

    – Milan Lucic – July 1/16

    Hey Milan, your pants are on fire. The LEAST you could do is use your “swagger” you were going to bring to stand up for your teammates against pretenders like E Kane. It’s not as if you are contributing anything else to the team. Step up and do your friggin’ job.

  • Can’t get on board with the conspiracy crowd on this one — refs/league out to get the Oilers for whatever reason you care to imagine. Fans of most teams believe their team gets screwed over by the officials because they’ere cheering for that team. I see and hear it all the time. We’re not talking about objectivity in many cases here and that’s OK, but let’s at least acknowledge that. The problem, as I see it, is there are just too many officials who seem incapable of making the right call and being consistent about it. How could Skilliter watch that play and not see a penalty? That’s a penalty 100 times out of 100, period. It’s frustrating enough seeing ticky-tack infractions called without consistency, but this is more than that. You can’t have even one official who watches that hit on Benning say, “I don’t have a problem with that. No penalty.” Anybody who does lacks the judgment to be an official in the best hockey league in the world.

        • probably just a mistake the same way many people make mistakes at work all the time. We like to call out ON writers whenever their math is wrong, or they make a typo. it’s the same thing. Sometimes goalies get beat by bad goals. sometimes forwards miss wide open nets, sometimes surgeons leave their instruments inside a body. Making the mistake is probably ok, but there needs to be accountability.

    • Gerald R. Ford

      Yes, exactly. It’s not about “The officials are screwing the Oilers.”, it’s about “The officials are shockingly inconsistent and sloppy, thus endangering everyone.”

  • Pouzar99

    Thanks for addressing this Robin. I found Skilliter”s decision grotesque and indefensible and believe it turned the game around, San Jose’s way. I consider myself to be a rational person, not given to conspiracy theories, but the officiating the Oilers have had to endure in the second half of the season is hard to explain and impossible to justify. I am not blaming the Oilers terrible record on the officials. It’s not like they would be in the playoff race if they were getting a fair shake, but Skilliter’s disgraceful non-call, which led directly to a goal and was followed up almost immediately by his soft call on Draisital angered me so much I turned the game off. These are the kind of plays and calls that drive some fans to stop watching and I really can’t blame them.