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NHL gave Max Domi a free pass

The Canadiens’ Max Domi pummeled Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers during an exhibition game on Wednesday.Paul Chiasson/AP

Maintaining the family brand with pride and glory, new Canadiens forward Max Domi tore a page straight from the league’s Jurassic period on Wednesday when he repeatedly tried to goad, then finally pummeled, a reluctant Aaron Ekblad during an exhibition game against the Panthers.

The end result was a bloodied and dazed Ekblad, with a history of concussions already at age 22, leaving the ice with a broken nose, and Domi ejected for his pathetic display.

Less than 24 hours later, the league’s Department of Player Safety delivered its velveteen cudgel, ordering Domi not to play in the Habs’ final five exhibition games.


Great, well-intentioned people at DOPS, charged with a very tough assignment, determining supplemental discipline in a league that still struggles to surrender its violent past. But they blew this one. Badly.

Domi needed to get bounced, but it should have been for (or included) at least a couple of regular-season games. Banning him for the remainder of the preseason probably doesn’t help his standing in the Habs’ lineup, but it might not hurt it, either. It is such a young and talent-starved lot, the 23-year-old Domi could secure the No. 1 pivot spot without playing again before opening night. Failing that, it might take him until game No. 2 of the regular season. It’s a struggle.

The decision again framed the league as one not concerned enough about what happens to the heads of the working help. Domi took two initial swipes at Ekblad’s noggin before finally driving his right hand full force into his face. Nothing accidental or incidental about it. Easy for the league to have labeled it a spontaneous mauling and thus tack one up under the W column for a workforce increasingly concerned about what happens to their brains, and livelihood, when getting their heads hammered.


Typically, “targeting the head” isn’t considered germane in a fight. Frankly, it’s expected. Hockey fights are often dirty, messy things, and it’s assumed the combatants will trade head shots. But this wasn’t a fight. This was aggravated assault on Ekblad, who stood there, getting punched, with all but a “Peace Now!’ banner unfurling from the top of his helmet.

“Bit of a gutless play,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo labeled Domi’s work after the game, what ended in a 5-2 Panthers win in Montreal. The Habs were in a 2-1 deficit when Domi launched, no doubt in hopes of “putting a charge into the boys’’ — or some such drivel.

Looking all the worse for wear, Ekblad on Friday said, “It’s dumb. I think he’s stupid for doing it. In the end, it’s hockey. That’s the way it goes. Scores will get settled at a later date.”

One giant step there right back to 1970s vigilante NHL. In other words, someone on the Panthers ultimately will get to Domi. Failing that, someone else in the Canadiens’ lineup, perhaps a skilled player, will be culled and pummeled and left with a broken nose or worse. Who knows? Again, hockey fights are often dirty, messy things. No telling what could happen come vigilante time.

Habs forward Jonathan Drouin tried to justify Domi’s antics right after the fight by accusing Ekblad of initiating it all by slashing Domi. The latter, he said, was just responding. First with two left hands and then a finishing right hand to the face of the 6-foot-5-inch Ekblad, who incorrectly hoped the 5-10 Domi would just go away and maybe play some hockey.


“Ekblad’s fault for not protecting himself,” said Drouin, in a dazzling display of victim blaming.

Tie Domi, Max’s dad, had his share of fisticuffs, helping him to amass 3,515 penalty minutes, third all time behind Tiger Williams (3,971) and Dale Hunter (3,565). The NHL’s three baddest boys, with a career total of 11,051 PIMs — the equal of 184 games in the sin bin. One big difference: When they fought, the other guys at least attempted to defend themselves.

Truly a regrettable moment for DOPS command. As favorite tweeter @allansteele25m noted, “That’s called a vacation, not punishment” when Domi’s five-game respite was announced.

For his part, Domi, dealt to Montreal from Phoenix in the offseason for Alex Galchenyuk, sounded contrite on Friday after practice.

“By no means,” said Domi, “did I want to hurt him. I feel bad about it, and I hope he’s OK.”

Nonsense. He’s not OK. He has a broken nose, and another dose of head trauma logged on his résumé. It’s impossible to assume the latter will be an issue later in his life, but it’s equally impossible to ignore the possibility. Such are the lessons we keep learning from the steady, slow drip of studies related to head trauma and sports.

“I feel bad about it,” added Domi, who faced Ekblad regularly when they both played in the OHL. “It’s not the way I wanted to handle that. It’s an emotional game, and obviously I’m an emotional player. I’ve known Aaron for a long time. Grew up playing against each other. We always play hard, always battle, whether it was in minor hockey, junior, the national level, and now in the NHL.


“I’ve got to suffer the consequences of it. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is, and I definitely respect the league’s decision.”

Consequences? Nearly none. Respect? Sure, why not? He got a free pass, and the game got sullied. Again.


Seguin finally gets his contract

Former Bruin Tyler Seguin, seen last season, signed an eight-year contract extension with the Dallas Stars worth $78.8 million.Tony Gutierrez/AP

Just as training camps opened, ex-Bruin Tyler Seguin finally closed on his new megadeal, an eight-year extension that will begin in 2019-20, for a total payout of $78.8 million (cap hit $9.85 million per over eight years).

Seguin had the bona fides, including the most important for his particular niche: goals scored. Over the last five seasons, only Alexander Ovechkin (236) has scored more often than Seguin (173), who popped in a career-high 40 last season.

Since July 1, the annual start of NHL free agency, Seguin became the 18th player to sign a deal with an average cap hit of $6 million or more per season. Only seven of those deals (listed below) reached or exceeded an average salary of $8 million a year.

The top seven, ranked by total value of the contract:

1. Drew Doughty, Kings — eight years/$11 million, $88 million

2. Seguin, Stars — eight years/$9.85 million, $78.8 million


3. John Tavares, Maple Leafs — seven years/$11 million, $77 million

4. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning — eight years/$9.5 million, $76 million

5. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes — eight years/$8.25 million, $66 million

6. Logan Couture, Sharks — eight years/$8 million, $64 million

7. Blake Wheeler, Jets — five years/$8.25 million, $41.25 million

Three other deals since July 1 exceeded Wheeler’s total payout, but the average salaries did not reach his $8.25 million: John Gibson, Ducks ($51.2 million/$6.4 million); Ryan Ellis, Predators ($50 million/$6.25 million); Ryan McDonagh, Lightning ($47.25 million/$6.75 million).

Seguin, 26, was the second overall pick (to Taylor Hall) in the 2010 draft, dished away by the Bruins in July 2013 in a deal that brought back Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith, and Matt Fraser, none of whom remains with the franchise.

Beyond goal scoring, Seguin ranks seventh in the last five seasons in points (384) and 19th in assists (211).

Hall, the league MVP last season with New Jersey, where he established career highs for goals (39), assists (54), and points (93), has two years remaining on his deal at an average of $6 million.


Flyers appear in need of saving

Death. Taxes. Goalie woes in Philadelphia.

The Bruins will be in Philly to face the Flyers on Monday night (with a return match at the Garden on Saturday), and once again the distant sons of the Broad Street Bullies don’t know if they have a legit workhorse for the net this season. A cage is a horrible thing to waste.

An already clouded picture grew a few shades grayer on Thursday when the Flyers learned ex-Yale stopper Alex Lyon will need at least four weeks to recover from a lower-body injury suffered earlier in the week.

Lyon, 4-2-1 with the varsity last season, entered camp at No. 3 on the depth chart. Normally, that would make his month (or more) on the sidelines a trifle. We’d barely mention it here if, say, Zane McIntyre, the No. 3 on the Bruins behind Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, were to miss half a season or more.

But again, we’re talking Philly, where the Flyers’ three best other goaltenders are all working their way back from surgery. To wit:

■  Brian Elliott, 33, the presumptive No. 1, underwent abdominal surgery at midseason and then had hip surgery over the summer.

■  Michal Neuvirth, 30, had both hips surgically repaired over the summer. Sensing a trend?

■  Anthony Stolarz, 24, had operations on both knees last season.

Bowman likes what he sees

Legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who still lives much of the year in Buffalo, watched with a kid’s enthusiasm from the HarborCenter stands during the recent Boston-Buffalo-Pittsburgh rookie tournament. He was especially proud to show a visitor from Boston pictures on his smartphone of his hockey-playing grandson, who lives in Swampscott.

Bowman, who turned 85 last Tuesday, was duly impressed with Sabres rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and noted the inevitable comparisons to Bobby Orr that will arise in the coming weeks.

“I’m not saying he’s Bobby,” said Bowman, “but he can skate, eh? Looks to me like he’ll be a special player.”

Bowman was joined in the stands by good pal Harry Neale, ex-coach and general manager in Vancouver, who in later years enjoyed great success in the broadcast booth.

“Harry tells me he was standing behind his bench once,” said an impish Bowman, following the playing of the US and Canadian national anthems, “and one of his players turns to another guy on the bench and says, ‘You know, every time I hear them play the anthem I have a bad game.’ ”

On the waiting list

Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander, seen during the 2018 postseason, has yet to sign a contract ahead of training camp.Michael Dwyer/AP

Stalled contract talks can change on a dime, but it looks like it will take way more than pocket change for William Nylander and the Leafs to close their differences. A restricted free agent, the 22-year-old pivot remains out of the Blue and White fold, the Leafs unwilling to pony up a rich long-term deal with a little more than a week before the start of the season.

The Sabres were similarly stuck in their talks with Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft (Nylander was No. 8 that June), until he finally agreed last week to a two-year bridge deal that will average $3.65 million a year.

Nylander and Reinhart found themselves much in the same spot that David Pastrnak faced last summer when it was his turn for a second contract with Boston. But rather than dilly-dally with Pasta, Bruins GM Don Sweeney resolved it fairly quickly, tying up the Czech right winger for six years and $40 million ($6.66 million cap hit). It was the richest second deal in club history, exceeding even the one signed by Tyler Seguin in the summer of 2012 (six years/$34 million), engineered by then-GM Peter Chiarelli.

Much, if not most, of Pastrnak’s bargaining leverage was rolled up in the third and final year of his entry-level deal, when he posted a 70-point season. With the new deal signed, Pastrnak then went out last season and tallied yet another career-best line: 35-45—80. He delivered at fair value. If he sustains those numbers over the next five years, he’ll look like a bargain by the end of the term.

No doubt Nylander, now slotted behind the $11 million-a-year John Tavares on the Leafs’ depth chart, has Pastrnak’s deal to present as a comp. Not to mention that of the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad, whose second deal was a whopping eight years/$60 million. But franchise defensemen have much greater negotiating strength than No. 2 centers.

Highly unlikely, after back-to-back seasons logging 61 points, Nylander will accept a bridge deal, unless it were on the level of say, the more seasoned Max Pacioretty, who quickly signed for four years/$28 million upon being dealt to Vegas from Montreal. Only 43 players totaled more points than Nylander (122) the last two seasons, many of them in the pay bracket of $6 million a year or higher. By the way, Pacioretty (104 points) wasn’t among the 43.

The good news for the Leafs: They stand some $13 million below the cap max of $79.5 million. They have the dough to pay Nylander, and they’ll be in the same spot next summer when it’s time to pay Auston Matthews on his second deal. If they don’t believe they’ll be able to fit both into their pay grid, Matthews will be the one to stay.

Loose pucks

Ex-Northeastern standout Zach Aston-Reese, who broke his jaw and sustained a concussion in last spring’s playoffs, has seen some time in Penguins camp on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Nice company. He could tie down full-time employment in Pittsburgh, in part because Conor Sheary (ex- of UMass-Amherst) was shipped to Buffalo in the offseason, along with ex-Bruin Matt Hunwick, for a fourth-round draft pick . . . According to StubHub sales, the Boston-Chicago Winter Classic game, to be staged Jan. 1 on the Notre Dame football field, is among the top three highest-demand tickets of the coming season . . . StubHub also reports that demand for Maple Leafs tickets is up nearly 50 percent over this time last season . . . Todd Reirden, in charge of the Capitals’ bench now that Stanley Cup-winning Barry Trotz has taken charge of the Islanders, played four seasons under Jerry York at Bowling Green. Reirden is one of three former NCAA Division 1 players to be a rookie NHL bench boss this year, joined by Jim Montgomery (Maine/Stars) and David Quinn (Boston University/Rangers).

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.