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Many earn blame in brawl

The easy part for Brendan Shanahan came Monday, when the NHL’s chief disciplinarian handed down a 10-game suspension to David Clarkson for leaving the bench during the Sabres-Leafs melee. The rule for such an infraction is clear, the suspension automatic and severe.

Shanahan had a tougher call Tuesday before suspending Phil Kessel for three preseason games, essentially giving him a few days in the timeout chair. The Leafs winger turned his stick into a sickle with the intentions of cutting down a tree, namely 6-foot-8, 270-pound redwood John Scott, at the trunk.

Kessel’s actions warranted punishment based on recklessness born from fear. As bad as it looked, he didn’t cause any real harm. In any given game, you’ll find three slashes that do more damage but are less obvious and aren’t penalized. Kessel showed enough wits to swing for Scott’s legs, creating the space he needed, rather than his head.

You don’t think Shanahan went far enough with his punishment? I agree, but probably for an entirely different reason. He should have suspended Scott for starting the bloody mess when he attacked Kessel. If he doesn’t start with Kessel, Kessel doesn’t respond.

The entire altercation - the whole thing - could have been avoided if Sabres coach Ron Rolston used a shred of common sense. He didn’t need to take Scott off the ice. He needed to make sure Scott didn’t do anything moronic on the ice. Instead, he stood there and watched the big guy initiate the shenanigans that followed.

Looking for someone to blame?

Start with Rolston and Scott before you arrive at Kessel.

Let me make this perfectly clear: I’m not absolving Kessel in any way, but his options were limited after Scott charged him. He couldn’t match Scott’s size, strength or brawling skills. He had no chance if he traded punches with the only man in NHL history with more than 150 games played and fewer than five career points scored.

With little to prove and even less to accomplish, Kessel at that moment was thinking more about survival. Keywords: at that moment. Kessel’s decision to take a poke at Scott after things momentarily settled down was another matter. That’s when he crossed the line separating survival from stupidity.

OK, so suspend Kessel for stupidity.

Just make sure Scott joins him.

It’s convenient for the Sabres and their legion of whiny apologists to grab the rulebook and claim he did little more than instigate a fight. Anyone taking an honest look could see he was the player most responsible for the line brawl that ensued. It wasn’t Leafs forward Jamie Devane or coach Randy Carlyle. And it certainly wasn’t Phil Kessel.

To review, Scott was intent on settling a score because Devane supposedly broke a rule of engagement while punching out Corey Tropp.

No matter your opinion of fighting in hockey, and I’m conflicted, both were willing combatants who understood the dangers. The allegation: Devane pushed Tropp’s head to the ice.

Just so we’re straight, punching each other in the face is acceptable. Knocking out teeth and causing concussions is acceptable. Beating up an opponent who did nothing wrong, which Scott has turned into a career, is acceptable. Pushing the head of someone who is trying to punch you, knock out your teeth and concuss you is ... unacceptable.

Make sense?

Of course not, but common sense was absent in Air Canada Centre. Rather than get even with Devane for unnecessary roughness, barbaric as that may seem, Scott in his infinite wisdom decided somebody on the ice for the next shift - anybody other than Devane, that is - would need to pay the fare. Scott admitted as much himself.

He later blamed Carlyle for what amounted to collateral damage, which was equally asinine. Scott also failed to realize that his response to one player violating a so-called code of conduct was breaking another unwritten rule that says goons - sorry, John, enforcers - don’t beat up undersized skill players.

Is that his idea of hockey? It’s my idea of anarchy.

Rolston deserved the fine. He should have recognized the potential for trouble and accepted Carlyle’s obvious invitation to defuse the situation. Carlyle ordered Kessel to the ice without worrying about Scott. He had no reason to worry because John Scott attacking Phil Kessel made no sense. Did Rolston really need Carlyle to explain?

You can only conclude that Rolson intended to send a message - in an exhibition game, no less. In fact, Rolson did send a message. He showed that he’s just as clueless as a few others in the organization. Scott was hired in the first place to address a lack of toughness when, really, their pressing need was competitive toughness.

Anyone know the difference?

Shanahan did, but he was in a sticky spot Tuesday. Written rules intersected with unwritten rules. Scott on the surface was guilty of instigating a fight and fighting, punishable by seven minutes in the box. Kessel faced the more severe penalty for defending himself, at least at the beginning, with his stick.

Sheriff Shanny reviewed the video, considered the variables, injected common sense and handed down his punishments. No problem here with Shanahan suspending Kessel for whatever he deemed necessary. The greater crime was allowing the person most responsible for the mayhem Sunday to walk away Scot-free.