When you listen any Brandon Davidson interview, there's a refreshing absence of the usual phlegmatic indifference displayed by athletes; he always looks happy to be there, answering questions with respectful attention and surprising eloquence. When I hear the local Edmonton media wax poetic about "good Alberta boys," I imagine this prototype to be epitomized by Brandon Davidson, whose rise against all odds to the NHL is a story that makes everybody intuitively root for him.
In case you didn't know his story, it involved rising through the ranks of the WHL, ECHL, and AHL despite his dream at many times being interrupted by his family not having enough money to allow him to continue playing hockey, going undrafted, battling testicular cancer, and more recently, a slew of unfortunate injuries that have frustratingly slowed down the momentum from a remarkable breakout season in 2015-16, one of the brightest parts of an altogether depressing season. Just after signing a very well-deserved two-year, $1.425 million contract in the offseason, many fans were eagerly waiting to see how he would fare in his sophomore season and watch him establish himself as a regular top-four NHL defenseman. Instead, after just over seven minutes of ice time in the season opener against the Flames on October 12, Davidson's season was rudely interrupted by Matthew Tkachuk.
Davidson did not avoid the issue in his interview upon his return from injury, and neither should he have had to-- Tkachuk impudently snatched the first ten weeks of the 2016-17 NHL season from Brandon Davidson with a vicious slew foot in Tkachuk's very first NHL game, and nothing was done to castigate the actions of a rookie who had already displayed a frightening history of similarly reckless and malicious plays.
"I was ready day one, and it's a terrible thing that I had to miss all that time for a dirty play," said Davidson on December 12 just prior to returning from injury. "I still think that was a slew foot, but it's uncontrollable, I can't do anything about it. Those things have a way of working themselves out, and a little discouraging to start the season that way, for sure, but I'm well-motivated and excited to get going here." He ended on a positive note, but was uncharacteristically blunt in expressing how he felt about the play.
If that wasn't enough, Davidson continued to express his disappointment in the lack of supplemental discipline when the Oilers played the Flames on January 14. "I have no control over those things. It did end up in an injury, I think that should have been noted, but nothing was done," he told the Edmonton Journal's Robert Tychkowski.
Brandon Davidson didn't need this in his life. The NHL doesn't need this in its product. And frankly, Matthew Tkachuk doesn't need this level of aggression in his game, a perfectly fine hockey player on the merit of his skills alone, currently third in points amongst NHL rookies.
So what happens when the League does not discipline the obviously malicious actions of a player without even a game of experience in the NHL? Well, as it turns out, that person will repeatedly act in this way until someone is hurt seriously enough to finally warrant some action.
Here's Tkachuk in action again at the end of the Flames' 4-0 loss to the Leafs on Monday night, taking down former Oiler Martin Marincin with a slew foot right in front of the Leafs' net. This is receiving a lot of play in the media, solely because it was a game played against the Leafs with all of Toronto's media contingent keenly watching. Marincin does not appear to be as seriously injured as Davidson was when he was slew footed by Tkachuk, but the disgusting disregard for another human being is once again on obvious display in this play.
So the Calgary feed is more damning and clear. Slewfoot and a shove at the same time by Matthew Tkachuk on Martin Marincin. pic.twitter.com/XqQoEpNBhr— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 24, 2017
Unfortunately, it looks like Tkachuk will once again avoid supplemental discipline for this act, despite the fact that he has a long, ignominious history of doing things like this. He was suspended for two games while playing for the London Knights in the OHL for a slew foot match penalty called in the last minute, after narrowing escaping suspension for another jab at Jordan Maletta of the IceDogs at the buzzer just a week before that.
Here he is at the 2016 Young Stars Classic, elbowing and repeatedly cross-checking Brenden Lemieux.
And here he is headbutting Marco Scandella in December.
You get the point.
It doesn't matter if it's Connor McDavid, Brandon Davidson, or even Matthew Tkachuk-- their right to good health and protection from intentional harm is basic and undisputed. Yes, hockey is a physical contact sport, and one with many perils the players are well aware of, but intentionally injuring another human being crosses a line between professional sport and iniquitous violence. It's bad for the player, it's bad for the image of the game, and it's terrible for the future of the game if parents of young potential hockey players are seeing these types of incidents frequently, without the basic requisite discipline.
The slew foot on Davidson was offensively blatant and unabashedly intentional, yet no action was taken by the league and the incident went largely forgotten without the uproar it should have elicited. Perhaps it is because Brandon Davidson is not a household name like Connor McDavid, but I can only imagine the uproar had this happened to a star player in the league, and the well-deserved scrutiny Tkachuk's action and his prior incidents would have received. It's sad that it would take a significant injury to a big name in the league to precipitate some discipline against a player whose tendencies almost guarantee that he will injure someone seriously in the future, as he already has in the past.
As someone who saw his actions in his first NHL game, it also feels cringeworthy each time the media praises Tkachuk’s game-- he's been heralded as "audacious" and possessing "edgy grit," implicitly not only accepting but praising his reckless, endangering style of play. The Calgary Herald just yesterday described the most recent slew foot on Marincin as another case of Tkachuk "still learning to tip-toe in the NHL." That's nice, but it's now January 2017, so let's not pretend Tkachuk is some innocent rookie who just happened to accidentally lose his temper in one game.
Both the media and the League need to get more serious about players like Matthew Tkachuk. The longer the League ignores his long history of vicious plays and the fact that he has already cost Brandon Davidson 35 games, the longer Tkachuk escapes serious discipline for his inappropriate and dangerous actions, and the longer broadcasts like Hockey Night in Canada continue to heap laughably excessive praise for his "gritty play," then the longer the game shows an inexcusable condonation for the unnecessarily reckless style of play that Tkachuk has come to exemplify. It's simply not okay to "tip-toe" around that.