The Gauthier Incident

by Ryan

Before we get started, let’s watch this again.

My first thought when I saw this live was that there had to be more to it. Hockey players aren’t crazy, and there is a reason for the way things develop on the ice. This wasn’t a witch hunt in search of incriminating evidence against Patrick Kaleta, just a desire to figure out why one player looks completely shocked while the other lies in a heap on the ground.

First of all, Denis Gauthier has no real reason to go after Pat Kaleta. The hit was clean, it wasn’t charging, and it was a completely reasonable forecheck. That’s the kind of hockey player Kaleta is, and we’ve seen far more questionable hits in his short career here in Buffalo.

But here’s where it all starts: after Gauthier tries to hit Pat in retaliation, Kaleta skates towards Denis instead of following the play back up ice. This is the universal symbol for “You want to make something of this?” Obviously Gauthier does, and he gets a bit overzealous because of it. He drops and hits Kaleta with a very quick punch, and he’s on the ground before the Kings hit the blue line.

Now… Gauthier punched Kaleta too quickly. This is quite obvious. However, I understand where he’s coming from and why he’s so surprised afterwards. Conventional wisdom says that Patrick Kaleta is willing to fight in this situation, and so Gauthier tries to get an early edge by throwing the first punch. It was premature, it was obviously misguided, but under the circumstances it seems completely logical. I will punch you, you will drop your gloves in return, and we will fight. We obviously know better, and down goes Kaleta.

Again, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. This is what Kaleta does, and I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with it. He’s not willing to fight, the coaches probably told him not to, and it’s his “role” to skate over there and draw in a penalty. The Sabres went on a four minute power play and he’s immediately played a good game.

However, this won’t be the last time something like this happens this season. There aren’t many teams from the Western Conference who know what Pat Kaleta is all about, and as the Sabres make that initial trip through the conference with Kaleta on the roster there will be misunderstandings such as these. Teams don’t know his tendencies, they don’t know his physical style, and they don’t know his unwillingness to “justify” or “defend” his actions, however you’d like to characterize it.

After this season, though, I think it will end. Teams will know he’s not going to throw the gloves down and fight, and so they won’t go after him as such. This isn’t a criticism as much as it is stating a fact: after this season Patrick Kaleta will be less useful to the Sabres because other teams’ inexperience with him will disapear.* The Gauthier Incident was based purely on inexperience with the beast that is Pat Kaleta, and after everyone gets a taste there will be a disclaimer that goes along with playing the Sabres. “Watch out for 36. 36 doesn’t throw.”**

Think about the last time the Sabres played Montreal. From what I saw the Habs figured out how to beat Pat Kaleta: beat the hell out of him. He’s not going to fight, but you play him just as physical as he plays you and he will break down. Do you think this hit was a coincidence? Montreal has seen Pat Kaleta in action and they know his number.

That Canadiens game was also the game Kaleta was hurt in. If I’m a Habs fan that’s exactly how I want to play an opponent’s instigator. How many times have you wanted someone to run Chris Neil or Sean Avery through the boards so hard he can’t skate for a week. That’s how Montreal played ours, and to me that’s textbook hockey.

Again, and I feel like I really need to stress this, I’m not saying what Kaleta did was wrong, nor am I saying what Gauthier did was right. Gauthier should have known better and at the very least should have waited for the mutual glove drop. He should and will get suspended, probably for two games or so. But when you really look it all this it makes sense in a weird, twisted way. This wasn’t a Bertuzzi or McSorley thing, this was a misunderstanding mixed with a little bit of poor decision making.

The strange thing is that if you’re not going to call Gauthier a cheap shot artist you should probably call Kaleta a turtle in this situation. However, I’m not sure I’d pick either. In a game that moves so fast, the split second decisions made by two different players in a unique situation combined to make something that looked pretty ugly. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the reality is as ugly as it appears.

Maybe I need to watch it a few more times, but I definitely want to hear what you have to say.

*The other argument I’m ignoring here is that teams like the Rangers continue to do stupid things with Kaleta because of the Mara hit. That’s something that may happen with other teams, but common sense says teams get past the antics of one player in the long run. The number, length, and frequency of major penalties because of Kaleta will go down over time. Not a positive or negative, just logic.

**Unless he eventually changes his game and adapts to how teams play him. I feel this will happen in time but I’m afraid it will be a reactionary move that may be made too late. We’ve seen that Kaleta has the ability to be a complete player, and I think he has to do more of that before he is pigeonholed into his current role.

10 Comments

  1. Katebits

    I’m pretty much with you, but I’ll take it one step further and say that I’m really not a fan of Kaleta’s style of play. To be perfectly honest, I think he’s kind of embarrassing- even when he’s effective and draws penalties.

    Obviously I wish he hadn’t been sucker punched. That was really ugly looking, and I hope he’s okay.

  2. Becky

    People enjoyed Kaleta more when he just fought, a la Mair. It probably is Ruff’s decision however, to merely instigate.

  3. Cari

    I respect what Kaleta does, completely. It takes a guy who is mentally strong to deal with a reputation like that, and take the on-ice criticism in stride. Kaleta is extremely effective, and plays his role perfectly.

    That being said, I do think he needs to drop the gloves more than once in a while, to show the rest of the league that he is capable of manning up when the challenge presents itself. Maybe that will stop incidents like this from happening.

  4. Ogre39666

    I agree with you about the situation, Gauthier simply didn’t know Kaleta that well. I also agree with the commenter above me, his lack of fighting has probably been because of Ruff telling him to tone it down. However, I think Kaleta and the coaching staff are smart enough to recognize when teams start to adjust to Kaleta current style and will start to make the change to a more “complete” game before it turns into a problem.

  5. Porky

    I agree with you completely, Ryan. Kaleta was at least as “guilty”. He was facing Gauthier, so I don’t buy the “sucker punch” argument, either. It was turtling plain and simple. As for the idea that Ruff has tied his hands, not true. Kaleta’s was the most hated player in the AHL before being called up for the exact same reason.

    http://buffalonews.typepad.com/sabres/2007/12/kaleta-takes-a.html

  6. dave in Rocha

    Two things:

    1) Whether or not Pat baited him by skating by him afterward, it still doesn’t excuse Gauthier’s obvious attempt at an elbow to the head along the boards. Denis tried to elbow him just because Pat tried to hit him into the boards on a routine play. The guy is clearly still a goon.

    2) True, Pat skated by him afterward. Maybe he was goading him into dropping the gloves, but I doubt it. My guess is that he was just yapping about how he’ll make sure he doesn’t miss next time (or maybe he noticed the near-elbow and was bitching about that).

    Ok, more than two things:
    3) I disagree with the assertion that if/when other teams learn to not be drawn into a penalty by him, he won’t be effective to the Sabres. If you ask me (and I’d bet if you asked Lindy as well), his biggest asset is the physical play to begin with. It’s good to have a guy on your team that can make the opposing D think twice about handling the puck in the corner. If they feel the need to retaliate in a stupid way, that’s their fault.

    And finally:
    4) I still have not heard anyone adequately explain to me WHY he needs to fight, drop the gloves, or “stand up for himself” just because he hits hard. He’s throwing body checks at guys who have the puck (or just got rid of it). His hits are clean (95 times out of 100). He’s not doing douchey cheap stunts like Avery standing in front of Brodeur. He’s not aiming at guys’ heads like Neil. And he’s not driving guys into the boards headfirst like Downney and Hollweg. THOSE GUYS should look over their shoulders. THOSE GUYS should get a beatdown. I equate Pat to someone like Dustin Brown. You don’t see people talking about how he’s not dropping the gloves too.

    Now, if it should happen, the first time Pat puts a guy’s head into the boards or does a Neil-on-Drury type hit, I’ll agree that he should expect to have to fight about it (though I wouldn’t defend the hit). But to paint him as partially at fault just because he tried to hit the guy with the puck is crazy. And for the record, I get that other teams often go after him if he tries to throw a hard check at their skill guys. Well, it’s part of the game. If someone rails Roy with a good clean hit, I wouldn’t be yelling for Mair or Goose to go take his head off.

  7. Ryan

    1) As far as I know Gauthier has no track record of “goonery” other than some questionable hits, which is exactly what Kaleta has. No suspensions, just this one incident.

    2) He didn’t just “skate by”, he skated directly towards him with what appeared to be intent to do something more than just trash talk. You can say “don’t miss next time” as you skate back into the play, but you skate at someone like that if you want something more.

    3) You can’t possibly try to tell me that Kaleta drawing penalties isn’t a big, big part of his game. I’m not saying he’s useless, but his utility decreases for sure when that stops.

    4) Because like you said, it’s “part of the game.” If you are going to go out there and run people through the boards you should be prepared for the consequences of those actions. Whether those consequences are realistic or not is irrelevant, that’s hockey. That’s the way it’s been for decades, and it makes no sense to assume it will change over the course of his career. Neil may be a cheap shot artist but he will drop when his coaches let him, but we hate the fact that his coaches are the safety valve (sound familiar?)

    It’s also because once people know Kaleta doesn’t fight his utility will go down. That’s a logical, completely reasonable point. Teams have and will learn, and how Montreal handled him a few weeks ago will be the way every other team in the league will.

    Also, Dustin Brown is a completely different animal. He’s a first round pick, a captain, and a complete hockey player. He will fight and defend his style of play, and he will put up 60 points to boot.

    But that’s exactly it. Pat Kaleta isn’t Dustin Brown, and he won’t ever score 60 points. However, he could play his game and put up 30, but only if his game evolves into that. His current use is fleeting and the window is closing. That’s my entire point. I’m not doubting that he will change, only stressing that he has to.

  8. dave in Rocha

    You don’t think Gauthier’s been a goon before?! Have you no recollection of the series against the Flyers in 2006? Here, check out Tom L’s recap of the game in which Gauthier speared Dumont in the midsection, causing JP to flop on the ice in pain, causing the asshole Flyer fans to boo him for being hurt.
    http://www.sabresreport.com/blogs/?p=186

    And I still have a different opinion about Kaleta’s use to the team. Lindy understands that the team can’t be all flash and finesse like 2007. He needs grit and hitting, and Pat is there to provide it. If other teams stop taking penalties against him, his hitting is no less effective. Heck, Max draws a lot of penalties too by skating around a lot, but we can all agree that his usefulness to the team has pretty much ceased.

  9. Anonymous

    Kaleta’s missed check he left his skates, which is charging and just as bad/dangerous as the attempted elbowing. In my opinion, he should have got a penalty for that and deserved what he got in the form of an ass whooping.

    If it were a goon on another team like Niel, it wouldn’t be a sucker punch, it would be justice.

    Kaleta is going to be injured a lot. He is going to injure other players a lot. He is going to get other guys on our team injured.

  10. Ryan

    Dave,

    What I’m saying is that he has very few official “goon” incidents, just like Kaleta. The league suspended him once back in 06 for a hit on Wellwood that I can’t find on YouTube. Personal opinion can (and does) put him in that category, but the same can be said for Patty if you’re not wearing blue and gold.

    The thing about Max drawing penalties is a good point, but you still won’t convince me that the current version of Pat Kaleta isn’t all about drawing penalties. Isn’t that why he doesn’t fight in the first place?