There are few things as inconsequential on the North American professional sports landscape than preseason hockey.
Baseball is the most fun exhibition season because it’s a team sport based around individual competition. You’ll get stars against stars, and prospects against prospects, but what really makes it special is that every now and then you’ll see something like some kid named Cole Hamels striking out Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, which happened in 2004 – two years before Hamels was even a major leaguer – and still is easily remembered to anyone who saw it as an early clue that Hamels would wind up being something special.
The NFL preseason is garbage because of how little action is seen by NFL players, but the guys that you see on Sundays through the fall actually do play together and against each other for the early parts of those games. Somewhere in between is the NBA preseason, which resembles the regular-season product but lacks any kind of intensity and is sprinkled throughout with scrubs.
But hockey? Hockey is something different. Teams try to play lines that they think will be together in the season, but the roster for a preseason game is a mishmash of NHL players and minor leaguers. The flow of the game necessitates that players of disparate skill levels often take the ice at the same time, and the intricacy of hockey as a sport means that even when good players are out there together, it’s sloppy. It’s simultaneously highly necessary and a complete waste of time.
Max Domi found a way out of it.
Acquired by the Canadiens from the Arizona Coyotes over the summer, Domi made some kind of first impression in Montreal on Wednesday night in a preseason game against the Florida Panthers. Feeling that he was the victim of slashing by Aaron Ekblad during a power play, Domi decided to try to start a fight, because, hockey. Ekblad didn’t want any of that, because, preseason hockey. And also because of his concussion history. But Domi didn’t care, shook off his glove, and punched Ekblad directly in the face.
For this egregious breach of hockey protocol – bare-knuckle punching someone in the face is acceptable only when the other guy has his gloves off – the NHL on Thursday suspended Domi for five games. That would be… the rest of the Canadiens’ preseason schedule, with Domi eligible to return for the season opener because… the NHL Department of Player Safety didn’t want to have a hearing with him?
Domi gets the next two weeks off, which means he will be in Montreal in early fall, with his work responsibilities reduced to a few hours of skating around his buddies and working out. Even better, Domi forfeits exactly zero of his salary, because NHL players are paid only for the regular season, on the 15th and 30th of each month, it’s right there on page 310 of the collective bargaining agreement – they also technically play the playoffs for free, but wouldn’t everyone?
This might be the greatest labor loophole in history. Imagine getting sent to an industry conference with meetings all day – it’s stupid, but it’s mandatory. A guy cuts you in line for the box lunches, so you call him a few names, and when he doesn’t respond, you just lay him out with a punch to the face. You’re asked to leave the conference that you never wanted to be at in the first place, and you get the next two weeks off without losing any of your salary. You wouldn’t do this, because you’re not a huge jerk or the type of person who would, say, react to the story of people being run over by a car by calling for stricter immigration policy. Also, if you did it, you’d be brought up on assault charges. In Domi’s case, he’s totally off the hook… although there’s a decent chance the Canadiens’ coaching staff will expect him to watch their remaining preseason games, a fate worse than being punched square in the face.