The Chicago Blackhawks (12-6-7) will take on the Ottawa Senators (10-10-5) at the United Center tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m., Chicago time.
The Blackhawks will have to attempt to knock off the foes from the capitol city of our neighbors to the North without rookie sensation Kris Versteeg. Versteeg was suspended and head coach Joel Quenneville was fined $10,000 following a fight that took place between Versteeg and fellow first-year man Kyle Turris with just two seconds remaining in a 7-1 blowout of the Coyotes over the weekend.
The reason for the suspension is simple. Any player who is tagged with an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of a game is automatically suspended for a game. The player's head coach is subsequently fined $10,000 automatically.
Key word in all that? Automatically!
First, how anyone can be fined automatically for anything is beyond me. I believe an investigation is in order before anyone's hard-earned money is taken from them.
Second, if a proper investigation was conducted into this matter, whoever conducting it would see that this was no more than two rookies dropping the mitts and setting the stage for great battles to come in the future.
Both Versteeg and Turris are much too highly skilled to be risking suspension and injury on a regular basis via the fight. So what really happened on Sunday?
My best guess is Versteeg, a rookie who was a guest on the Chicago Blackhawks postgame radio show after the previous game's win against the Ducks, was quoted as saying "I thought I lost a couple Chiclets (teeth), and if that had been the case I'm sure stuff would have hit the fan" in reference to a high stick that went uncalled.
He was also alluding to the fact that if he did lose his teeth he would have gone after someone. I know it may sound a bit far-fetched, but if you are a young rookie and have gone on the radio in a big city like Chicago saying you're not afraid to drop the mitts when need be, knowing you're far from a fighter, then what better opportunity to back it up?
Another non-fighting rookie grabs you with little time left in a blowout and, the next thing you know, the adrenaline pump has your gloves on the ice.
If Kris Versteeg's claim is true and Turris really did challenge him to a fight, can you blame him for accepting? Even if he did drop the gloves first? I know Blackhawks fans probably won't blame him for anything negative thus far this season.
So how will this suspension really affect the 'Hawks tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators? Well, how would any team like to lose its third most productive forward (behind the league leader in goals and reigning rookie of the year) and Rookie of the Year leading candidate? Probably not very much.
In fact, even though his two probable linemates have a year more NHL experience than him Versteeg is the elder statesman on the line a full two years older than both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In all seriousness, I doubt Kane or Toews will have a noticeable drop in play without Versteeg in the lineup. What will be missing, though, is another young energetic player who not only is leading all rookies in points, but also is getting involved on the defensive end. And also apparently becoming a physical presence out there.
Blackhawks fans should feel somewhat lucky that they are only losing Versteeg for one game. If you noticed in the fight, both Versteeg and Turris both wear a protective visor. It is well known that when fighting with these visors it is easy to open up a big gash on the hand. Players who do wear them are instructed to remove their own helmet if involved in a fight.
If a player isn't wearing one and one is the one who is wearing it needs to remove the helmet or face an automatic misconduct penalty.
So that being said, both Turris and Versteeg are lucky to have gotten out uninjured.
A word to Kris Versteeg: Fans love the passion you are showing. Fans love the fire you bring to the game. Fans love your toughness despite being barely hitting 190 pounds soaking wet and trying to hit 6' on skates.
Above all that great stuff, though, Kris: Fans LOVE hearing the Fog Horn go off at the U.C. and hearing your name over the P.A. system with a goal or an assist.
So serve your time and get back to doing what it is that is making you the best rookie so far this season. Heads-up playmaking and speed-driven, two-way hockey.