At 14:04 of the third period in last night’s game between the Calgary Flames and the Detroit Red Wings, what began as a “simple” fight between Brett Kulak and Luke Witkowski turned into a chaotic scene that involved 94 penalty minutes and eventually resulted in five players receiving game misconducts.
So what the heck happened, and will it result in any supplemental discipline from the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety?
Everything began with Kulak and Witkowski’s fight. It was not a close fight. Witkowski arguably kept things going longer than he needed to after Kulak was brought down to the ice. Witkowski began heading off the ice at the direction of the officials, which strongly suggests that he had been given an additional 10-minute misconduct for the fight – probably under Rule 46.5 (“Persists in continuing altercation”).
From there, things got dumb really quickly.
The Flames bench had words with Witkowski as he began heading off the ice, and Matthew Tkachuk whacked him on the back of the legs as he exited the ice surface. The whack prompted Witkowski to turn around and escalate a verbal altercation into a physical altercation. Everyone headed towards the benches – including Flames goalie Jon Gillies and Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard – and began throwing gloved punches. Micheal Ferland is visible scooting over on the bench to get involved, grabbing (and punching) Jonathan Ericsson. Travis Hamonic and Anthony Mantha fought, ending when Hamonic fell into the open gate in the Detroit bench.
Running down the boxscore
Here’s how the penalties more or less seem to have shaken out:
- A fighting major for Kulak and a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct (for continuing the altercation, Rule 46.5) for Witkowski.
- A spearing major and automatic game misconduct (Rule 62.5) for Tkachuk.
- Fighting majors and game misconducts (for a secondary altercation, Rule 46.7) for Hamonic and Mantha.
- An additional game misconduct for Mantha, presumably for the punches he threw after Hamonic fell into the bench (for continuing the altercation, Rule 46.5).
- An additional 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct for Witkowski for his part in the melee after he was supposed to have left the ice, likely for some combination of fighting off the playing surface or continuing the altercation (Rule 46.5).
- Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (for leaving the crease to join a scrum) for Gillies and Howard.
Seventy-three seconds later, Mikael Backlund got tossed from the game as well. He was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, most likely for using obscene language, and also received a game misconduct, likely for persisting in the activities that got him the original two-minute penalty.
Does anybody get fined or suspended?
Let me open with this general rule: the way the CBA and rulebook are written, the NHL can suspend or fine any player for anything they want as long as they feel they have sufficient justification.
The entire melee began because (a) Witkowski came back onto the ice and (b) Tkachuk poked him with his stick. Witkowski was already out of the game and came back, so (as mentioned in the above video by Elliotte Friedman) he’s in violation of Rule 70.6. It carries an automatic 10-game suspension. They’ll appeal and argue that Tkachuk provoked him, which probably won’t fly.
Tkachuk probably gets a fine of some sort for his part in setting things off, though. Ferland and Andreas Athanasiou likely also don’t escape unscathed, as they’re all over the footage. Ferland had to be restrained by one of the linesmen. They probably both get fined.
Was Tkachuk’s poke a spear? Probably not. But like Backlund’s game misconduct, it was likely a “Dang it, we’ve gotta give this punk-ass something for setting things off” call by the referees.
Everybody that gets misconducts and game misconducts get automatic small fines under the NHL’s rules, but I’d expect a suspension for Witkowski and fines for Tkachuk, Ferland and Athanasiou. I’d be surprised if Tkachuk gets a suspension, but then again he does already have a history with Player Safety and they may want to send him a message.