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Paul Byron shouldn’t have been expected to fight

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Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron is not a player you expect to see in a fight.

Listed at only 5-foot-9, 163 pounds, the 29-year-old Byron entered Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers having been involved in only four NHL fights in more than 450 career games (including playoffs and preseason). It is not something he does, and on the rare occasion he has, it has happened against players that are comparable to him in stature.

But there he was, early in the first period, dropping the gloves and squaring off with the significantly larger and presumably stronger MacKenzie Weegar.

It went horribly for Byron, who stumbled off the ice, did not return to the game, and is not joining the Canadiens on its current road trip for Thursday’s massive game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game that could very well decide which team gets the eighth and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

[Related: Panthers’ Weegar knocks out Byron with nasty uppercut]

He was no doubt only fighting Weegar because that is what was expected of Byron as part of the NHL’s “code.”

You see, earlier this season Byron concussed Weegar with an ugly hit to the head that resulted in Byron being suspended three games by the NHL Department of Player Safety.

But because there is still a culture of on-ice retribution in today’s NHL game, it was expected that Byron was going to have to answer the call and drop the gloves with the player he had previously wronged, no matter how ridiculous it may have seemed physically.

Byron’s agent, J.P. Barry, was extremely critical of this whole mindset when he told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday, “This was not a hockey fight,” while pointing out the massive size difference between the two players.

Weegar said after the game, via The Athletic, that he simply asked Byron if he wanted to fight, and that if he had declined he would have been willing to let it go. Obviously Byron didn’t decline, likely because he felt he was doing the right thing and the thing he was supposed to do given the circumstances.

Unfortunately, he ended up suffering the consequences.

There are no doubt a lot of people in hockey that will salute Byron for doing this, even after seeing the ugly result.

This is wrong.

This is wrong because Byron was already given his punishment when he was handed one of the longest suspensions the league has issued this season for a player safety incident, also costing him more than $18,000 in salary.

But it is not just the suspension itself that matters here.

The hit itself was very bad and deserving of every game and penny it ended up costing Byron. Maybe even more, you could argue.

What matters here is that the Department of Player Safety worked exactly the way it was supposed to work and, ultimately, designed to work. You can quibble with the number of games they ended up giving him for the hit. Maybe you think it deserved more, especially since Weegar was injured as a result of the play.

But the purpose of the department isn’t to just hand out suspensions for an arbitrary number of games, randomly punishing players for their wrongdoings.

As I wrote earlier this season regarding the Department’s continued dealings with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, it is not there for you or your team to get a pound of flesh and feel better about what happened to your player.

It is there to improve the safety of the game and the players by changing the way the play, and ultimately eliminating the types of play that result in suspensions.

The hope, in an ideal world, is that they have no suspensions to issue because players have learned how to play the game in a way that they are not deliberately out to hurt people. Obviously that will never happen because it’s a fast, chaotic game with a lot of collisions for 60 minutes a night, and there are some players that, unfortunately, do not have that mindset.

Sometimes the line will be crossed. Sometimes players will do bad things.

But you still want to make them more aware of how they are playing, where they are hitting people, and how they are hitting people, so the department has to exist and sometimes has to hand out punishments.

Byron understood that immediately.

On the day he was suspended he issued the following statement on Twitter.

In short: A normally clean player delivered a bad hit that had a bad result.

That player was punished by the league for delivering the bad hit, while that player also accepted responsibility for it, apologized for it, and tried to learn from it.

That should have been the end of it because the system worked.

Just because what unfolded on Tuesday night was an accepted practice 25 or 30 years ago, when there was no such department to police these things, no standard for what was illegal, and when the game was the wild west in terms of cheap shots and goonism, does not mean it should be accepted today.

That is the point Barry tried to make with LeBrun on Tuesday. An excerpt, via The Athletic (subscription required):

“I truly believe this exact situation is Exhibit A for re-examining our current rules for fighting,” continued Barry, one of the game’s most influential player agents. “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?”

Again, pretty strong points.

“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.”

Byron had no business fighting Weegar on Tuesday night, and there was no reason for him to feel pressured into doing it because everything about the incident was already handled and settled three months earlier.

Now Byron himself is out, dealing with the effects of an unnecessary blow to the head (which is the most important thing here), and also potentially impacting the Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs.

The entire thing is extremely frustrating.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.