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'Player safety, my ass'

Jets' Perreault frustrated, furious over NHL's silence after dangerous, deliberate elbow to previously concussed head goes unpunished

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/1/2020 (205 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You'd think George Parros would be sensitive to head trauma.

After all, he spent his hockey career inflicting plenty of bare-knuckle brutality on opponents before suffering his own run of high-profile concussions — including being stretchered off the ice after a 2013 fight with Winnipegger Colton Orr that marked the beginning of the end of his playing days.

Well, Parros and his pals in the NHL office can talk all they want about taking these matters seriously. Truth is, they're absolutely full of it. Frauds, really.

The latest example occurred right here in River City, where Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault received a blatant elbow to the face from Vancouver's Jake Virtanen Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place.

This one seemed to check off all the boxes for a sneaky, dirty play they claim to want to get out of the game. Perreault didn't have the puck. He never saw the elbow coming. And it was absolutely deliberate.

And yet, not only did both referees on the ice somehow miss it entirely, the NHL itself apparently didn't see fit to even get Virtanen on the phone for an explanation. No penalty. No hearing. No suspension. No fine.

The league's completely random, arbitrary wheel of justice apparently landed on "do nothing" this time.

"Player safety, my ass," is how an irate Perreault began his media availability Thursday, one that will go down as one of the most memorable we've even seen from an athlete around these parts.

The 32-year-old Perreault, never one to shy away from speaking his mind, was spitting fire. In a calculated manner, he took direct aim at a league that likes to pretend it cares but has repeatedly shown otherwise.

And I don't blame him one bit.

"It was a late hit, I never had the puck, and he flicks his elbow to my face. And they're not going to do anything about it. Now I've got to take matters into my own hands. Next time this happens, I get to swing my stick across his forehead and I shouldn't get suspended." — Mathieu Perreault

"This is literally an elbow to the face of a guy that didn't have the puck. I see him coming, I brace for a hit. It was a late hit, I never had the puck, and he flicks his elbow to my face. And they're not going to do anything about it. Now I've got to take matters into my own hands. Next time this happens, I get to swing my stick across his forehead and I shouldn't get suspended," said Perreault, who was just getting warmed up.

Not that it should matter, but Perreault already suffered a concussion and missed six games last month after Philadelphia's Joel Farabee caught him with a blindside head shot. Farabee was given a major and game misconduct, along with a three-game suspension that Perreault didn't feel was adequate.

And while he dodged injury Tuesday, save for a sore jaw, it should be the reckless act itself, not the result, that determines whether discipline is warranted.

"I don't even know what to say. I can't really protect myself if the league's not going to protect me. I'm the smallest guy on the ice, so I can't really fight anybody. The only thing I can do to defend myself is use my stick. So, next guy that does that to me is going to get my f-----g stick. And I better not get suspended for it," said Perreault.

An injured Perreault is helped off the ice after a late, blindside hit by the Philadelphia Flyers' Joel Farabee on December 15.

FRED GREENSLADE / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

An injured Perreault is helped off the ice after a late, blindside hit by the Philadelphia Flyers' Joel Farabee on December 15.

Oh, the irony, in that Perreault is likely to hear from the league about his perfectly justified, pointed comments and may, in fact, be a bit lighter in the wallet as a result. I'll actually be surprised if they don't fine him. Which, of course, will be more than what they did to the guy who scrambled his frontal lobe the other night, threatening both his livelihood and post-career life.

Memo from the NHL to players: shut up and suffer your brain damage in silence.

And where exactly is the players' association in all of this? The NHLPA is supposed to speak on behalf of all players, but it seems to me the only time the union gets involved is to push back against a suspension its leaders feel is too long. How about advocating on behalf of the victims for a change?

Edmonton Oilers' Zack Kassian, right, was suspended for two games by the NHL after attempting to fight Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JASON FRANSON

Edmonton Oilers' Zack Kassian, right, was suspended for two games by the NHL after attempting to fight Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk.

Perhaps we shouldn't expect better from a league that decided Parros was the best choice to oversee issues of player safety. That would be the same Parros who racked up more than 1,000 penalty minutes in his NHL career, an intimidating force on skates who did the bulk of his damage with his fists, rather than his skill with a stick and the puck.

Now the Princeton-educated ex-pugilist has players and coaches around the league shaking their heads in frustration. Geez, who could have seen that coming?

Just look at Edmonton's Zack Kassian, suspended two games earlier this week for rag-dolling Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk, who took multiple runs at him, including a pair that knocked his helmet off. Kassian felt they were blindside, but the league apparently disagreed. And Kassian, not unlike Perreault, was vowing vigilante payback.

"Those hits, they are legal, after speaking with... George they’re legal, but a guy is taking a run at you, where I come from you take matters into your own hands," Kassian told reporters. "You play with fire eventually you’re going to get burned. He messed with the wrong guy. I don’t think he realizes that we’re in the same division and I have a great memory."

Or how about Boston coach Bruce Cassidy, who was furious the other night after an uncalled elbow from Columbus forward Emil Bemstrom caught Tuukka Rask in the head, forcing the Bruins goaltender out of the game with a concussion?

"I don't even know what to say. I can't really protect myself if the league's not going to protect me. I'm the smallest guy on the ice, so I can't really fight anybody. The only thing I can do to defend myself is use my stick. So, next guy that does that to me is going to get my f‐‐-g stick. And I better not get suspended for it." — Mathieu Perreault

The Jets, for the record, heard crickets from the NHL on Perreault's matter. That's just the way the league works. They don't owe you an explanation. And don't you dare challenge them on that.

"It's disappointing. I'm really disappointed. Because the head shots, I thought that one was easy to see. Some of these are hard to figure out the timing of it, players turn at the end. You hear them say the game happens fast, it happens so fast out there. But I thought that one (by Virtanen) was a decision," coach Paul Maurice told me Thursday.

"(Perreault is) sensitive to it. But even if he hadn't had an injury (previously), that's not right."

No, it's not. But it's also not surprising. Adding to the Jets' anger was the fact Virtanen refused to honour the so-called "code" and answer for his play. Captain Blake Wheeler tried to engage him to fight later in the game. Virtanen declined, skating away.

Vancouver's Jake Virtanen, left, is listed by the NHL as 6-1 and 226 compared to Perreault who is 5-10 and 188 pounds.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JEFF MCINTOSH

Vancouver's Jake Virtanen, left, is listed by the NHL as 6-1 and 226 compared to Perreault who is 5-10 and 188 pounds.

"He's just taking on a smaller guy. If I was a bigger guy he probably doesn't do that because he knows I could beat him up," said Perreault, who is 5-10 and 188 pounds, compared to the 6-1, 226-pound Virtanen.

"He can throw his elbow around and he doesn't have to fight anybody and the league's not going to do anything about it. Maybe now I should start running around with my elbows up and hitting guys in the face and I don't have to answer and fight anybody and should be all right," he said.

The answer to violence is never more violence. And yet, it's hard to blame players such as Perreault for feeling this way. Because when it comes to matters of the head, the NHL has a self-inflicted mess on its hands.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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