Posted by: mdegeorge | March 4, 2011

Time to put Gillies’ goonery in the permanent sin bin

With less than a quarter of the NHL season remaining, the discussion league-wide should be centered on teams jockeying for playoff positions and survival.

The last thing that should be garnering headlines is the exploits of a career minor leaguer doing his best Ogie Ogilthorpe impersonation (not to mention with facial hair that resembles that of Charlestown Chiefs captain Johnny Upton.)

Yet the vicious hits and on-ice jumping of fellow players by 32-year-old thug Trevor Gillies of the Islanders constitute the hot button issues in the league as the calendar turns to March.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Apparently, the nine-game suspension Gillies earned for jumping and pummeling a defenseless Eric Tangradi into a concussion in the Penguins-Islanders battle royale a couple months back wasn’t enough (we know it certainly didn’t suffice for Pens owner Mario Lemieux).

Whatever lesson the NHL was trying to instill in the inveterate enforcer didn’t take, as evidenced by his running of Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck with fists at face level in his third shift back from suspension.

Gillies is meeting with the league’s disciplinary supremo Colin Campbell as I write this Friday morning, and, well, let’s just say Lemieux’s acrimony from three weeks ago will pale in comparison to the league-wide outrage if Campbell comes to a conclusion other than to suspend Gillies for the rest of the season.

I can certainly sympathize with a guy who spent over a decade bouncing around crappy outposts in the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League (amassing 2519 penalty minutes in 571 games, by the way).

But that makes his behavior all the more inexplicable, and if possible, inexcusable. He was forced to wade through years of bus trips and crappy hotels in the backwater towns of these leagues. Wouldn’t that make you all the more grateful for your chance at the big time, something the native of Cambridge, Ontario no doubt dreamt of all his life?

Sure his role as a 12th/spare forward is miniscule, confined to four or five high-energy shifts a night and the occasional clean fight when his team needs a boost or a message sent. That doesn’t mean he has to commit felonies every time he’s on the ice. Though the enforcer is a dying institution in the game, there are plenty of players still making quite a living in that role without resulting to embarrassing farce Gillies has turned his ice time into.

To call this issue a debate really isn’t fair as the usually loyalist hockey community has almost unanimously recognized that there is not place in the league for a player resorting to Gillies antics.

ESPN’s Scott Burnside has urged the Islanders, irrespective of the NHL to take action with “a strong statement about how Gillies has played his last game as an Islander.” Versus’ crew has joined the chorus of denouncement, with the less-than-agreeable Jeremy Roenick vehemently advocating his expulsion form the league and the usually loathsome Mike Milbury arguing that, “this is a guy that crosses the line and doesn’t know what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate behavior in a hockey game.”

It does warrant mentioning that in each case, Gillies was responding to slights on his team. His attack on Tangradi, though way over the line, was part of a statement the Islanders were trying to send to the Pens in the wake of Brent Johnson’s knockout of Rick DiPietro, and his hit on Clutterbuck was retaliation for the Wild forward boarding New York’s Zenon Konopka. In both cases, Gillies’ actions were arguably provoked and, while they may have been well-intentioned or in keeping with his role, far exceeded any letter of hockey law.

The NHL cannot fail in upholding justice and should make sure Gillies doesn’t see the ice in an Islanders uniform again this season. But Burnside is right on the money in charging the team, especially general manager Garth Snow, with issuing such a decree even if the league doesn’t.

Gillies’ presence is overshadowing a collection of talented young players tied to the club for a while in Long Island. Michael Grabner was the league’s rookie of the month in February, Matt Moulson has been on a tear recently that includes a new long-term pact, John Tavares is a top talent, Kyle Okposo is starting to shake his earlier slump, and Blake Comeau is developing into a bona fide top-six forward. It’s the first time in a long time that people are discussion what’s happening on the ice rather than the decaying Veterans Memorial Coliseum or the impending threat of the Isles moving.

Removing the Gillies distraction from the mix for the remainder of the season is the best option for all parties. It keeps him from maiming opposing players and negatively impacting the playoff picture (after all, the Isles playing spoiler shouldn’t involve trips to the emergency room.) It allows the Isles and their fan base to focus on a resurgence that, although occurring well out of shouting distance of the playoff picture, still provides hope for the future that hasn’t been there since four DiPietro surgeries ago. And it allows Gillies a little time to reflect on the consequences of his action, get out of the public fisheye and maybe remember just how much a privilege it is to get paid to play the game of hockey for a little.

The latter is something he’s apparently beaten the sense out of too.



  1. […] taken lightly as it is an institution that separates the game from most other sports. But perhaps more stringent crackdowns on the belligerence and goonery perpetrated by Probert for a decade and a half would be an […]

  2. […] shy about railing on the NHL’s occasionally farcical disciplinary process. (I think I got in a couple shots in the last week […]

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