Steve Downie may have avoided a suspension for his sucker punch on Toronto's Jason Blake on Saturday night, but all eyes will continue to be on him each time he laces up the skates for some time to come. His antics in the infantile stages of his NHL career may just be the tip of the iceberg. If he keeps it up, his run as a pro may end up being over almost before it even truly begins.
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His general manager, his coach, the higher-ups in the NHL league office, teammates, opponents and fans alike are all watching. There will be no escaping punishment the next time around. There can't be. He is a well-known villain at this point.
From the junior incident between Downie and Akim Aliu when the two were teammates in Windsor, to the 20-game suspension for the vicious hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond, to the slash on Andy Greene on Friday night and now the Blake incident just one evening later, this guy has exhibited a complete lack of respect for his fellow players and for the game. He's certainly made a name for himself in just 4 career NHL games - but it sure sounds a lot more like "Mud" than Steve Downie thus far.
This is a 20-year-old kid who was a first round draft pick in 2005. Clearly, he has the talent (or at least the potential) to put together a solid NHL career. But when you've had a start such as his, one has to wonder if this kid will burn out before he ever really gets a chance.
Chris Simon, the poster child for today's "tough" discipline in the NHL, now sees his career on its last legs. After his 30-game suspension for guillotining Jarko Ruutu's leg is served, it remains to be seen whether or not the Islanders - or any team, for that matter - will give the perpetual offender yet another opportunity to get it together. (Personally, I don't see it happening.)
Downie, at just 20, is well on his way to becoming another Chris Simon already.
With Simon, the Islanders acted before the league had a chance to - asking the 17-year NHL veteran to leave the team to seek counseling. While the NHL in this most recent Downie incident did nothing more than warn the perpetrator, wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air to see the Flyers do the right thing - for the team and for the player - and get Downie some help as well ... before it's too late?
Sure, you want to establish yourself in the league and make an impact as soon as possible, especially if you play a tough game. But there's nothing tough about the way Downie plays and he's well on his way to ruining the opportunity of a lifetime. Clearly, he needs help.
Paul Holmgren <a href=http://www.philly.com/inquirer/breaking/sports_breaking/20080107_Flyers_Downie_wont_get_suspended_for_sucker_punch.html>sounds as though</a> he's had enough of Downie's antics already. I say the timing is perfect for the Flyers organization to step to the plate and put this kid on the shelf for as long as is deemed necessary to get his head straight and give him half a chance at making it in the NHL. Besides, how can you continue to dress this kid, knowing that from what we've seen so far he's only a split-second away from another bonehead play, if for no other reason than it costing your team points in the standings?
Somehow, as of now, the Flyers have not gotten proactive with Downie. Since nothing's happened other than the warning issued from Colin Campbell, I'm sure we'll see him in uniform Tuesday night in Atlanta. And I'm sure that there will be a Thrasher or two who knows they can bait this guy into taking a stupid penalty, as he's clearly shown zero ability to control his temper.
It doesn't take much, mind you, to send Downie off his rocker. The McAmmond hit was as dirty as they come, sure, but I'll even give him a pass on that one on the grounds that he was simply overaggressive, trying to make an impact in a preseason game. The slash on Greene, though, came after Downie couldn't handle being the recipient of a clean body check, of all things. Suckering the diminutive Blake while he was handcuffed by a linesman, I'm sure, was well worth whatever it was that set him off as well. And, though drudging up a story from when a guy was 18 doesn't exactly tell all about one's character, the Aliu incident - where Downie blindly cross-checked and jumped a teammate allegedly because that teammate wouldn't take part in some naked hazing ritual - just may have told us all we needed to know about this guy in hindsight.
Hopefully, whether in Tuesday night's game or some other time in the future, Downie's reaction to another situation won't put someone else's well-being in jeopardy.
Eventually he might realize that it's his career on the line as well.
He'd better ... because, at this point, the entire hockey world is just watching and waiting for his next episode.
It could be his last.
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