OTTAWA - Eugene Melnyk wants the NHL to get tough on crime.
With headshots and violence at the forefront in these playoffs, the Senators owner told QMI Agency in a 1-on-1 interview Thursday that the league needs to have stiffer suspensions — including all-out bans for repeat offenders — before something tragic happens.
“I have, for the longest time, said there is no room in this game for that kind of play,” Melnyk said following the club’s team picture at Scotiabank Place. “No. 1, these are elite hockey players. They’re not just plastic figures you can kick around and think they’re going to come back.
“They’re human beings that you can literally end their lives and that may end up happening one day. It has happened in other sports, like football, where there’s a wrong hit, things weren’t policed correctly and the next thing that happens is the person is being carried off the field.
“The next day you’re booking a ticket to go to the funeral. I hope that isn’t what it’s going to take to change this game. I hope it never gets to the point that we need to have someone carried off in a wooden box to get the message through there’s no room in hockey for some of headshots that have been doled out by some of these players.”
Melnyk, who has made his feelings known to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, has already felt the pain of a headshot this spring firsthand. The Senators lost captain Daniel Alfredsson last Saturday to a concussion when he was elbowed by the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin in New York.
Melnyk understands Hagelin, who received a three-game suspension, isn’t a repeat offender and he’s not the kind of player the NHL needs to go after. But he recounted a phone conversation he had with Alfredsson’s wife Bibi Backman the morning after the hit.
“They bother me more, or as much as, they bother the players and their families,” said Melnyk. “I can’t imagine what goes through the minds of the families and the teammates when they see their colleagues and fathers laying on the ice.
“I spoke to Bibi Sunday. I was concerned about how she was doing in light of what happened. (The family) all watched on TV, the (four) boys were watching, and imagine what goes through the kid’s heads, seeing their father laying there? She said as soon as (Alfredsson) moved, they were all fine, but you’re talking about human beings.
“What we need to do is stop the talk. You have to seriously begin nailing repeat offenders right out of the game. If there’s a one-off, mistaken hit, fine. That’s up to the league to decide, but if you have a repeat offender then that person should be out of the game without question. They have no business playing in the NHL. It’s the equivalent of getting a junkyard car driver in the Daytona 500. Why are you putting a reckless driver in an elite group?”
Melnyk believes it’s time to clamp down. He said the players should be tiered as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. For example if ‘C’ player takes out an ‘A’ player, then the offending team should be forced to lose one of its ‘A’ players. He will be watching to see what action is taken against the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres for hitting Chicago’s Marian Hossa.
“I would think this is going to get elevated to much more full-scale discussion at the (next board of) governors’ meetings. Up until now, that’s been abdicated to the general managers,” said Melnyk. “Somehow we need to put in a system, and it’s not money that’s going to do it because there’s a lot of people that have the money to cover fines.
“It’s very simple: You rank your players ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. You take out of my ‘A’ players during a playoff series, I get to select one of your ‘A’ players that’s not going to play. Forget about the goon, he doesn’t care if he plays again, he’s getting paid, but give me a choice of who I can take off of your roster. It’s no different than chess: You take away one of my kings, I take away one of yours. That will put pressure on a lot of these players not to do repeat hits.”
Melnyk can only hope the NHL starts listening.