MacKenzie Weegar

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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.

Panthers’ Weegar knocks out Habs’ Byron with nasty uppercut

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Knockout blows are a rarity in fighting in the NHL these days. But every so often, a left or a right lands flush and down goes one of the combatants.

Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron could barely stand and needed to be held upright and helped off the ice after Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar clocked him with left-handed uppercut during a first-period fight on Tuesday night.

Here’s the fight:

There’s a backstory here.

Back January, Byron drilled Weegar in the head on a nasty charging call.

Byron was suspended three games while Weegar was concussed on the play.

So Tuesday’s fight was a little bit of retribution, followed by what appeared to be some instant regret from Weegar, who looked quite concerned for the state he left Byron in after the one-sided bout.

The Canadiens announced that Byron wouldn’t return following the game (not in the least bit surprising).

The debate will now rage whether or not Byron had to answer the bell. Weegar seemed to ask Byron if he wanted to go and Byron turned around, dropped his mitts and they were off to the races. While admirable that he owned his transgression, the Canadiens are in one hell of a fight for a playoff spot and they need Byron, who has 15 goals and 30 points this season.

Given the way Byron left the ice, he might have to miss some time down the stretch here, including an uber-important game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Perhaps sometimes you should just turn the other cheek.

Meanwhile, it’s not the first fight Weegar has featured in recent days.

On Saturday night, Weegar was on the receiving end of a pummeling at the hands of Boston Bruins forward Noel Acciari.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Everything comes up Bruins on Saturday

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Honestly, Zdeno Chara signing another team-friendly contract would have been enough to make Saturday great for the Boston Bruins, alone. But the good times didn’t stop there.

Nope, the Bruins carried those positive vibes to the ice, as they pummeled the Florida Panthers by a score of 7-3. In managing that lopsided win, the Bruins became the second team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A clinched spot and a big win to go with that Chara extension … that’s it, right? Nope, more fun stuff came when you zoomed into the specifics of the game.

For one thing, Chara celebrated his extended stay with the Bruins by scoring the 200th goal of his splendid NHL career, and it was a pretty nice one. (You can watch that milestone tally in the video above this post’s headline.)

Chara also had an assist in that win, so quite an all-around Saturday for “The Big Z.”

He wasn’t the only Bruins player to have a memorable evening, as Noel Acciari scored a goal and also threw punches at a gatling-gun-rhythm in quite the fight with MacKenzie Weegar:

*Infomercial voice* But wait, there’s more …

The Maple Leafs only managed a point against the struggling Rangers on Saturday, so now the Bruins hold a seven-point edge for the Atlantic’s second seed, and home-ice advantage in that looming first-round series.

While Toronto would be a tough opponent – warts and all – it must be tantalizing for the Bruins to picture what they might be capable of. After all, the B’s are starting to get healthier following a season of injury headaches, and they’re heating up considering their four-game winning streak.

They’re also an impressive 28-7-3 at home this season, so home ice could be pretty significant.

Yes, life was good for the Bruins on Saturday, and they aim to carry that over to most nights in April, and beyond.

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.

Panthers’ Barkov explodes for five assists, sets franchise record

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Aleksander Barkov was already having a remarkable season for the Florida Panthers prior to Friday night.

His five-assist effort against the Minnesota Wild just added another chapter to the tale he’ll be able to tell and another passage in the Panthers’ history book.

You see, five assists are the most any one Panther has ever recorded in a game. Barkov was magical, his hands in on five of Florida’s six goals in a 6-2 win, including four primary apples.

Barkov came into Friday with 70 points, eight back of his career-high. He’s now just three off 78-point season he had last year. His 29 goals this season were already one more than his previous career-high, and his 46 assists now are five shy of the 51 he has last season.

The Finn has scored some ridiculous goals this year, too.

The Panthers, nine points out of a playoff spot coming into the night, chased Devan Dubnyk after one period. Jonathan Huberdeau had four points, Evgeni Dadonov had three assists, and MacKenzie Weegar and Mike Matheson each had a brace.

Sam Montembeault, making his second NHL start, picked up his first NHL win after stopping 25 shots.

This weird thing also happened:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Habs’ Byron suspended three games for hit on Panthers’ Weegar

via NHL
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Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron received a three-game suspension for charging MacKenzie Weegar of the Florida Panthers during Montreal’s 5-1 win on Tuesday.

The Department of Player Safety explains that Byron “launches up and into a forceful check” while making “significant contact” with Weegar’s head. The explanation video circles back to Byron’s skate leaving the ice, postulating that Byron “launched himself excessively upward” to make the hit.

Finally, the NHL notes Weegar’s injury, but also a lack of suspension history for the speedy Byron:

Byron tweeted a statement on the suspension, noting that he accepts responsibility for the hit, even though he had “no intention of causing injury.”

So, Byron will be unavailable for Friday’s game at Columbus, Saturday’s home game versus the Flyers, and a Wednesday, Jan. 23 contest versus the Coyotes. The Habs have the All-Star break after that, so Byron is eligible to return for a Feb. 2 home game against the Devils.

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.