The Los Angeles Kings may have learned a lesson they can apply to their entire system Tuesday night in Atlanta. You cannot have skilled players that you rely on without protection in the NHL. You may not need them every night, but you don’t need automobile insurance everyday. It’s just good to have it when the time comes.
Jason Allison will be out for an undetermined amount of time because of a cheap shot by 6-6, 245-pound defenseman Andy Sutton. Sutton’s knee-to-knee hit was a blatant example of the old pro wrestling adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, beat ‘em up”. Sutton will undoubtedly be suspended for a couple games which will not likely affect his four points a year average or Atlanta’s march to mediocrity. The Kings, who had the potential to be a Western Conference finalist, now face the reality that without their big gun, they are an average team at best.
With Ken Belanger and Brad Norton out as healthy scratches against one of the cheaper teams in the NHL, Andy Sutton had free reign around the ice, and he used it. Ian Laperriere is long on heart but short on girth, so his effort to extract some revenge from the larger Sutton was counterproductive; an already injury-depleted team lost another top 6 forward for 17 minutes.
Would the presence of an enforcer made the hit not happen? Probably not. Would a beating have prevented Sutton from running roughshot over the Kings the rest of the night? Absolutely. Sutton is not the most gifted fighter for his size and he would have likely taken some from Belanger and perhaps from Norton.
Please do not point to the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings as teams who are successful but do not have goons. Derian Hatcher and Darren McCarty may not be enforcers, but they can throw with anyone in the NHL and could easily change their roles rusher to crusher if the situation called for it.
The tape of this game should be sent directly to Manchester. Monarch Coach Bruce Boudreau probably already knows that you cannot skate Aulin, Cammalleri, Lehoux and the like without the Ryan Flinns, the Joe Rulliers and the Kip Brennans. The AHL still has many players whose job is to physically dominate other players, particularly rookies who can be thrown off their game so easily. Taking out a prospect would be a feather in their respective caps. AHL and ECHL teams always dress enforcers as both insurance and countermeasures.
What a shame it would be to see this class of prospects befall the same fate the Kings and Jason Allison have. It’s a lesson that maybe the big club could have learned from the farm system.