SUN Hockey Pool

Liles off the hook

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

No rap sheet.

No intent.

No knee injury.

No suspension.

Scream like hell if you must, but those are the factors NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell took into account yesterday in deciding not to suspend John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche for sticking his knee out on Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers Monday.

It goes without saying fans waiting to hear what supplemental discipline Campbell would issue after Liles felled Smyth with 29 seconds to play in the Oilers 2-1 win won't be the least bit satisfied there is none whatsoever - no matter what his reasoning. Fair enough.

That said, Campbell made the right call.

"Suspensions are not (issued) because one team thinks there should be a suspension," Campbell said from New York yesterday. "Suspensions are about player versus player and the safety of players."

Smyth, it turns out, got off relatively easy - a bruised thigh, as opposed to an injury to his already-braced left knee many feared when he hobbled off the ice with the help of Dwayne Roloson and went straight to the dressing room. He is out day-to-day and will be re-evaluated today.

Liles? At worst, he'll be fined for his boneheaded play on Smyth, who was about to dance past him at the Edmonton blue-line and waltz in on an empty net with a chance to score his third goal of the night.

With his squeaky clean record, the bang-bang nature of the play in question and because he's lucky beyond words that No. 94 didn't tear up his knee, Liles escapes suspension. This time.

"There's a number of criteria we consider," Campbell said. "The history of the player shows this isn't something he's done time after time, and there was no serious injury to Ryan as far as the knee.

"The time of the game, this was not an instance where he was trying to get Ryan back for an earlier hit. It was just the play itself. He was trying to stop Ryan from getting past him and scoring a goal."

Of course, it would have been completely understandable if, in the heat of the moment, somebody on the ice exacted their own justice and filled in Liles then and there. For some reason, that didn't happen. That's another matter.

In the cold light of the day after the incident, however, Campbell doesn't have the option of applying the on-ice code of payback.

"It was a play bred out of desperation," coach Craig MacTavish said.

"He (Liles) knew that if he got by him, he was going to score. He threw whatever he had at him. He's not that type of player to submarine a guy like that."

A rap sheet?

Liles, before this incident, had none. With his minor for kneeing Smyth, Liles has 86 penalty minutes in 178 NHL games. That's a Lady Byng Trophy candidate, not a thug.

Intent? There was none. Liles made a split-second decision and reacted. This wasn't somebody, unhappy with the score, running an opposing player from behind. This was a pure reaction play.

"The question is, do we feel he was trying to hurt Ryan? Obviously, we don't because of his background," Campbell said. "He's never done it before. He has never been suspended. He's never been fined. I don't recall him taking an independent (non-fighting) major."

Injury? Yes, the extent of any damage done should be a factor.

Had the hit by Liles put Smyth on the surgeon's table for knee surgery, he would be looking at a suspension. It didn't and he isn't.

"That's important because knee injuries are tough things to get over," said Campbell. "There's no serious injury to the knee."

As for "sending a message," in the absence of malice or forethought, what message is Campbell to send? That was best done on the ice, but the Oilers did nothing.

As for anybody thinking of evening the score when Liles and the Avs come calling Nov. 30, please refer to the above line about malice and forethought. We've seen where that can lead. Think Todd Bertuzzi.

"You have to be accountable for your actions," Campbell said.

"In this case, his actions were to try to stop the player. Call it a knee, call it a thigh check, he stuck his leg and shoulder out to stop him. It was a desperation play."

Campbell got it right.


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