Asham's classless actions don't warrant ban

Pittsburgh Penguins' Arron Asham mocks Washington Capitals' Jay Beagle after knocking him to the...

Pittsburgh Penguins' Arron Asham mocks Washington Capitals' Jay Beagle after knocking him to the ice and bloodying his nose during a fight in the third period of their NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania October 13, 2011. (REUTERS/Jason Cohn)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:11 PM ET

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Arron Asham used his fists to knock down Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals Thursday night.

But it's what he did with his hands afterward -- causing so much discussion that this story, as we like to say in the business, still has legs.

For what was a pretty "normal" fight -- Beagle had hit outstanding Penguins defenceman Kris Letang and part of Asham's job description is to inform opponents that is not acceptable -- the confrontation has galvanized a host of viewpoints about headshots, the role of fighting in hockey and what is and isn't acceptable behaviour.

That seems to be where we're at right now in hockey, after a tragic summer, anything to do with fighting or headshots or brain trauma is going to be ripped apart, put back together and torn down again.

After he dropped Beagle, Asham waved his hands, palms down, in the gesture of a boxing referee signalling a fight is over.

He then tucked his hands beside his head in the "go to sleep" gesture.

Asham himself pretty much accurately summed up the gestures as "classless," and said he was caught up in the moment.

Asham sought out Caps veteran Mike Knuble, a former teammate, to check up on Beagle and apologize for his "showboating."

The incident generated a buzz in the social media with some fans wanting Asham suspended.

Others are wondering how you reconcile fighting with the league's crackdown on headshots and to that I say there's a difference between an elbow or shoulder to the head of an unsuspecting opponent and two players consenting to a fight. Maybe it's a flimsy argument, but there is a difference.

There was a time, and it really wasn't that long ago, when the Asham-Beagle fight would have made it on to the highlight reel, but its shelf life wouldn't have been that long.

Gestures after fighting? Didn't former Toronto Maple Leaf Tie Domi do a speedbag motion or simulate putting on a championship belt?

Gritty Ottawa Senators winger Chris Neil used to gall opponents by swinging his arms up to encourage the crowd after a scrap.

Now, with the focus on brain trauma and the long-term effects of concussion, there's outrage over Asham's gestures because he could have been mocking a possibly concussed opponent (luckily for Beagle, according to Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, he was not concussed and suffered just "a fat lip.")

Do I think Asham should be suspended for the gestures?

No.

Asham was right. They were classless. But they weren't obscene and not that far off other post-scrap gestures which went unpunished in the past.

But the landscape has changed, as Asham is finding out.

Two other interesting spinoffs from the incident: Caps forward Brooks Laich voiced some frustration with the league's concussion measures -- which are being criticized now by the very people they are designed to protect. The question becomes how far does the league go to protect the players from themselves?

The other thing is how the Asham-Beagle incident is ramping up what is the best rivalry in the NHL right now.

Caps captain Alex Ovechkin said after the game he didn't think Asham's gestures following the fight were respectful.

That led to Asham calling Ovechkin a hypocrite Friday.

"I don't know what Ovie's talking about, disrespectful. A guy who throws his stick down and warms his hands over it. He is being a hypocrite himself. The rivalry is back. I'm sure the next game is going to have a lot of fireworks," Asham told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

That was a reference to Ovechkin's 50th goal celebration in 2009.

So, from one fight, so much talk, so much discussion.

Anyway, for those who would like to see fighting out of hockey -- even though there is no momentum at all for that within the NHL's ranks -- they might slowly be getting their wish.

There have been only one-third as many fights this season compared with last year at this time.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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