The unchecked aggression other teams show against the New York Islanders cannot continue. It’s time to fight back.
Robert Bortuzzo might not be a name you’re familiar with. But if you’re an Islanders fan who watched the team’s Columbus Day loss to St. Louis, it should be. For Bortuzzo, a 28-year-old, six-year NHL veteran, was the guy who did this to Brock Nelson.
What an asshole. Make him pay #isles? pic.twitter.com/3Anz8JjUtu
— YeSUV? (@IslesWhiteSUV) October 9, 2017
Yes, Bortuzzo was assessed a double-minor for his cowardly attack on Nelson. And yes, the NHL fined him—a whole $3,091.40—the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.
As for the Islanders, a half-hearted shove from Nikolai Kulemin was all the retribution they were willing to dish out.
Nobody made it a point to take Bortuzzo into the boards. Or get in his face after the whistle blew the next time he was on the ice. Or, god forbid, drop the gloves and challenge him to a fight.
That’s both pathetic and problematic. Because let’s be honest: Kulemin’s half-hearted shove doesn’t serve as an actual deterrent. Neither does the four-minute minor nor the paltry fine from the NHL.
Other players on other teams look at that clip and laugh. They know that they can do whatever they want to the Islanders. Nobody’s going to stand up to them.
Now, this might sound like a whiny way of saying the Islanders should never have let Matt Martin walk after the 2015-16 season. It’s not. Toronto overpaid for Martin. The Isles were wise not to.
But they failed to replace his physicality or his presence.
While the NHL has made moves to make the game less physical over the past few years, hockey is never going to be a non-contact sport. Teams still need players that know how to play smart, physical hockey. They still need guys who will stand up for their teammates.
I openly admit that I yearn for the days of old. For Islanders teams that had the likes of Ken Baumgartner, Eric Cairns, Rich Pilon, Mick Vukota and Steve Webb on the roster. They weren’t highly skilled, nor were they contenders for major awards. But they protected their teammates who were.
Had one of them been on the ice or the bench Monday when Bortuzzo assaulted Nelson, you’d better believe that there’d have been retribution. He’d have to answer for what he did. Or maybe he’d have had second thoughts about doing it in the first place.
Obviously, none of these players are coming back. They’re all retired and enjoying their post-playing lives. Martin is in Toronto. But that doesn’t mean that the Islanders should wholly abandon the idea of standing up for themselves—and for each other.
Cal Clutterbuck is physical, leading the team with 222 hits in 66 games last year—an average of nearly 3.4 hits per game. But he’s not that guy. This may surprise you, but Cal has never dropped his gloves in the four years he’s been an Islander.
It’s not so much that the Islanders need a fighter. But they need someone whose mere presence will make other teams think twice about taking cheap shots against them. A player who is willing to hit a bully in the nose and stand toe-to-toe with him afterward.
Until the Islanders find someone who is able to do just that, opposing players will continue to do whatever they want—because there’s no fear of repercussion, retribution or five minutes in the box.
Remember the Looney Tunes cartoons where Daffy Duck would argue with Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd about what hunting season it was until, inevitably, it wound up being duck season?
Well, it’s Islander season and other teams are on the hunt. It’s going to stay that way until the Islanders actually do something about it.