Mon Jan 25 11:56am EST
The verdict on Patrice Cormier for his vicious, premeditated hit on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts: He's suspended for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs by the QMJHL; but much like when Michael Liambas was banned for the season by the OHL, Cormier can turn pro and play in any league not sanctioned by Hockey Canada, according to RDS.
Therein, of course, lies the difficult reality about the deserved suspension for Cormier.
Cormier already has the backing of New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who said the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies center and Team Canada junior captain didn't merit a season-long suspension for this hit on Tam. (Updated comments from the Devils and Lamoriello at the end of the post.)
(WARNING: The footage may be disturbing to some viewers for the graphic nature of the injury. Please know that before watching the clip.)
It was a nasty hit and a disturbing aftermath as Tam convulsed on the ice. As our own Sean Leahy pointed out, Cormier was a repeat offender, laying out two vicious elbows to the heads of Anton Rodin of Sweden and Teemu Hartikainen of Finland in pre-competition games during world juniors and only receiving a penalty for one.
Normally, we'd say the aftermath of the hit may have inflated the punishment; but it's clear that Cormier needed to be harshly suspended for the culmination of weeks of hazardous, reckless and regardless play. That, and the suspension on Liambas clearly created a precedent for this sort of thing this season.
The question is: Will the rest of the hockey community follow the Q's lead and keep Cormier benched for a season, or will this ban be as toothless as the one on Liambis?
The 'Q,' more than any other junior league, is fraught with internal politics, but if Courteau makes the right move, it's incumbent on every other league (including the American Hockey League) to uphold the suspension.
You can't legislate respect (which is what cranking another human being who's helpless is all about) especially when the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, prefers to deal with it by turning more lawyer than visionary and embarks on eye-glazing analysis about lines of demarcation. But then, you never get leadership from the NHL on anything important, and the good news is that while it's going to take a death to get people really worked up, there appears to be a critical mass forming and eventually the legal system is going to want its pound of flesh.
That's our concern, too, as we voiced on The Score with Steve Kouleas last week. These suspensions do nothing to deter the actions of players; Liambas begot Cormier whose actions will eventually be eclipsed by another offender whose actions are captured on YouTube and proliferated through the hockey world.
No one wishes that level of imperial interference into matters on the ice, but it's the nuclear-level deterrent for these types of actions. If that's your aim in calling for these suspensions, that could be the only viable option at this point in our hockey culture.
That said, there's a lesser solution that now comes to the forefront: Professional leagues honoring the discipline handed out from other organizations against players.
It's also possible, unlikely but possible, that David Andrews the commissioner of the AHL could uphold whatever suspension exists with the QMJHL. I doubt that would happen because Cormier is moving from junior to professional hockey, but he could be cleared and he could play in the AHL this season.
Andrews tells TSN that the only way Cormier would be allowed to play in the AHL, assuming that he is still under suspension with the QMJHL, is if there were an AHL review, which there has been in the past with players like Steve Downie(notes) and Jesse Boulerice(notes), amongst others who have moved on.
Should this level of collusion -- and that's what it is, let's face it -- exist for a situation like Cormier's? Does this offense rise to that level, or should he be able to embark on a pro career?
On the QMJHL, the suspension will likely be met with celebration. We don't believe it should go beyond that, but understand if others do. And Lamoriello is going to have a hell of a PR crisis on his hands should Cormier end up in the AHL.
UPDATE (2:15 p.m. EST): The Devils and Lamoriello have avoided that aforementioned PR crisis with the release of this statement:
"We fully respect the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s decision regarding last week’s incident," Lamoriello said. "The Devils' organization views this situation seriously, and does not condone Patrice Cormier’s(notes) actions.
"This unfortunate incident does not reflect the character of the Patrice Cormier we know. We trust that Patrice will have learned a valuable lession that will serve him well when he returns to hockey as a valued player in our organization. We will honor the league’s suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season."
Also, as a few readers have pointed out, Lamoriello has twice clarified that he wasn't calling for there not to be any suspension for Cormier; he was make the case against a full-season or any police intervention. That was clear to us from the start; others, not-so-much.