Dallas Stars forward Ryan Garbutt very suddenly has plans for Thanksgiving. No, he won't be having turkey. Instead, Garbutt will be meeting with the NHL's Department of Player Safety to discuss an incident from the third period of last night's win. With just over 12 minutes gone, and the Stars clinging to a one goal lead, Garbutt caught Edmonton forward Taylor Hall with a knee at center ice. Garbutt was assessed a two minute tripping penalty on the play, but not removed from the game. However, due to the nature of the infraction (kneeing), he can be subject to supplementary discipline by the league.
It's a stupid thing to have to talk about. I would rather be examining the positive message sent by Jason Spezza's new contract, analyzing Tyler Seguin's inability to not score goals, or basking in the superfluous start of John Klingberg's NHL career. Those are more uplifting stories, but thanks to a poor decision by Mr. Garbutt, they're not the story. Not right now.
Have I mentioned I think it was a stupid penalty to take? Let's start with the basics. Dallas had a lead, but had been hemorrhaging shots for much of the night. They'd survived one third period penalty, but these Stars are not the defensive bunch from '99. The last thing they should be doing is giving an opponent more chances to find offense or the Stars another chance for a late collapse.
The penalty becomes even more galling when we consider the positions of everyone involved. Hall was isolated from his linemates, and thanks to steady back-pressure from Seguin, heading into the maw of four Dallas defenders. It is absolutely possible a player with his considerable gifts could have forced a scoring chance, but a dump or a line change were much more likely outcomes. Instead, Garbutt trailed a knee, put a desperate team on the powerplay, and a reeling one on the penalty kill. In broader terms, he maximized Edmonton's advantages while minimizing Dallas'.
The final wrinkle is Taylor Hall's status relative to Garbutt. Hall is a star player, and had the puck on his stick. People were paying attention, at that particular moment, which made it highly unlikely an infraction was going to go unpunished. Let's take our homer hats off and imagine Tyler Seguin on the receiving end of a Teddy Purcell hook. It gets called. That's just the way the disciplinary world works.
All of this would be bad enough as a standalone incident, but it isn't. Last night's penalty is part of a larger pattern with Ryan Garbutt. Not necessarily a pattern of malice (which I hope will spare him a bit in front of the DPS), but one of foolishness. When someone says "Ryan Garbutt took an unnecessary penalty against a star player in the neutral zone," they now have to qualify which penalty.
Before you dismiss this as a petulant reference to Anaheim in April, put yourself in Lindy Ruff's shoes. Ryan Garbutt is an aggressive, talented player. He possesses the physicality and speed to match up against the other team's best players, or to generate chances against their secondary units. You want to use him heavily, you want to think he makes the team better.
Usage is about more than want, though, and actions like last night make it hard to trust Garbutt. With each bad decision, Garbutt makes it more difficult to rationalize sending him over the boards. We saw it a bit last night, with Patrick Eaves tagging in towards the end of the game. Don't you think Ruff would have loved the home run threat Garbutt offers versus a pressing Edmonton attack?
Given Garbutt's style of play, some penalties are going to be inevitable. They just have to be effort penalties. Foolish decisions like last night aren't part of the equation, and if they can't be eliminated, someone else is going to get a shot.