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The NHL’s code protects no one

phil kessel suspension
Buffalo Sabres' Brian Flynn fights Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto, Sunday Sept. 22, 2013. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Hockey’s code is dead.

“There used to be a code,” Brian McGratton told TSN. “But I don’t know if there is anymore.” McGratton’s remarks came after Sunday night’s line brawl in Toronto that featured John Scott, the only skater in NHL history to play more than 150 games and score less than six points, trying to jump Phil Kessel after the face-off.

Scott was attempting to avenge teammate Corey Tropp, who, moments earlier lost a fight against Jamie Devane, a player visibly outside his weight class.

Pure mayhem ensued after the faceoff. Kessel bought himself enough time to evade Scott by swinging his stick like he was on the 18th hole of Augusta, while his teammates jumped Scott. David Clarkson left the bench, earning himself a 10-game suspension, and Nazem Kadri narrowly avoided making the same mistake. Kessel fought, and bloodied, Brian Flynn. And just as things were settling down, Jonathan Bernier channeled his inner Patrick Roy and met Ryan Miller with a hail of punches.

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The ACC crowd was deafening, loving every second of it, a clear reminder that hockey fights still resonate with a vocal majority of fans, even if their impact on the game’s outcome is minimal.

But the whole scene was also a reminder that the code is gone from hockey, and if there ever really was one, it definitely wasn’t serving the purpose of policing the game and protecting star players.

Players like Scott, and the Maple Leafs’ own version, Colton Orr, are increasingly helpless to deter on-ice violence, not only because they are generally the perpetrators of said violence, but because they can only capably play five minutes a night and can’t stop anything while on the bench. And even when they do play, their frontier justice is generally dished out to other enforcers. Someone like Scott Hartnell is going to play physical, whether it’s against Phil Kessel or David Clarkson, but isn’t going to oblige Orr by dropping the gloves.

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Scott breaking The Code and going after a star player isn’t the most egregious example of the players’ inability to police themselves, just the latest.

The Code didn’t prevent Marc Savard from suffering a horrific concussion at the hands of Matt Cooke, even though the Bruins bleed toughness. And The Code didn’t protect Steve Moore on the night he was attacked from behind by Todd Bertuzzi, the same night he fought the aforementioned Cooke earlier in the game to atone for a dirty hit.

The Code states John Scott will have to fight on November 15, the next time the Sabres face the Leafs. It is the NHL’s way, but it won’t stop the next John Scott from doing the exact same thing. The Code is now nothing more than a dying language.