The NHL dealt a swift and heavy blow to Ben Eager on Saturday, suspending the Thrashers forward four games for punching Toronto’s Colby Armstrong during Friday’s game. Eager, who received a match penalty, will forfeit $20,752.68 in salary. He will miss Sunday’s game against Carolina and subsequent contests with Philadelphia, Dallas and Florida.
The suspension comes 15 days after Boston’s Milan Lucic received a match penalty for a late punch on Thrashers defenseman Freddy Meyer. Lucic was not suspended and received a $2,500 fine. Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley was suspended two games for a collision with Boston’s Adam McQuaid in December.
“I'm surprised in one way, but there is no parity in these suspensions that are handed out,” Eager said Saturday. “The last two incidents I've seen, they knocked a guy out with no glove on and get no fine. The Lucic incident, he suckers a guy who’s not even looking, with no glove on, and he gets fined $2,500. Then Jody Shelley does the same thing to a guy who is watching and he gets two games. I get four [games] somehow for hitting a guy with my glove on, that is looking right in my face. We are looking eye to eye.
"I guess [NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell] wanted a quiet weekend. He didn’t want the Toronto media calling him all weekend. He did what he had to do.
“It is what it is. It’s four games. I will deal with it and move on.”
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the fine is based on Eager’s average annual salary. The money goes to the players’ emergency-assistance fund.
With Eager suspended and injuries preventing Evander Kane (mid-body), Jim Slater (concussion) and Freddy Modin from traveling with the team to Raleigh, the Thrashers re-called forward Tim Stapleton from AHL Chicago. The team will need another forward before Sunday's game, likely to be Spencer Machacek.
The incident occurred in the second period of Friday’s 9-3 loss to Toronto. Dustin Byfuglien was called for a roughing penalty and in the ensuing melee, Eager punched Armstrong. The former Thrasher left Philips Arena with his right eye completely bandaged.
Eager, who has been suspended in the past, said previous incidents may have contributed to the stiff penalty. He said he was not given an explanation of the penalty.
“I'm sure that might have played into it,” Eager said. “I’ve seen the tape. I don’t think it warrants four games regardless if I’ve been suspended before in the past.
“You don’t get any explanation. They just take the money out of your paycheck. That’s all you see at the end of the day. You don’t get any feedback, any reason why. Maybe just a couple of quotes in the paper.”
The Maple Leafs scored four times on the major power play. They also scored a first-period power play when Eager was called for a double minor for roughing and cross-checking.
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said he spoke to Eager about staying in control following the double minors.
“It’s stiff of course,” Ramsay said of the suspension. “For Ben it’s too bad, but these are lessons we learn as we move through this game. Our complaint would be that the hit on Freddy Meyer was deemed OK. We don’t question the league. We just deal with it and move on.”
Several players, including Meyer, also said they felt an explanation of the penalty was warranted.
“There have been a few cases this year and each one has escalated -- from a fine, to two games, to four games,” Meyer said. “What causes the escalation? It would be nice for me as a player or the average fan to know the rules and what the course of action will be.”
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