On the other end of the latest suspension rise...
PHILADELPHIA - It's not that Chris Simon is unrepentant about the stick-swinging incident seven months ago for which he received a 25-game suspension, the longest sentence in NHL history. But something inside him relishes the fact that he will make his comeback Saturday night in Philadelphia, a fight town if ever there was one.
Simon was drafted by the Flyers, and even though he was traded before he ever donned their uniform, he always has appreciated the physical style of a franchise once known as the "Broad Street Bullies." Already this season, two Flyers have been suspended for the use of excessive force, so Simon anticipates the sort of game that should be right up the back alley he has inhabited for the most of his 15 NHL seasons.
"I'm really excited to be back playing," Simon said on the eve of his return. "I love the style that's been played by the Flyers in the past. That's always been the type of game that's played into my hands."
Actually, Simon has rather soft hands for an enforcer, as his 159 career goals attest. But he doesn't kid himself. Simon is among the toughest of a breed for whom the key to survival in the NHL has been a willingness to handle the rough stuff.
That's the player the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg chose to hit from behind March 8 at Nassau Coliseum, triggering a response that Simon knows was wrong but, at the same time, arose from a basic survival instinct that has allowed him to remain a force at the age of 35.
To this day, Simon says he doesn't remember Hollweg's hit or his own reaction because of the concussion he received when he was lifted off his skates and driven face-first into the glass. But Simon has studied tape of the incident, trying to make sense of it.
He has seen the image of himself rising on wobbly legs and turning to face Hollweg, who circled back toward him. As horrifying as the visual of Simon's swinging the stick toward Hollweg's chin might have been, he noted that his hands remained well apart on the stick, not together.
"I didn't swing my stick at him," Simon said. "I chopped him. I know it's wrong, but it wasn't a golf swing or a baseball swing like everybody else says. I don't want to do that again. But I'm still going to play the same way I always have. It was a reaction thing, not an action.
"Getting hit the way I did, I was injured on the play. I wasn't myself. I was half-knocked out. It wasn't like I was looking for anybody. I didn't even know who hit me. He came back towards me, I was hurt, and that's all I could do. I didn't want to get hit again."
Simon doesn't deny responsibility for what could have turned into an incident with far more serious repercussions if the blow he delivered had done more damage. But as a fighter, Simon understands what happens when you get knocked down.
"When we fight in hockey and a guy gets hurt, if you've ever been in that situation, it's like you're an animal," he said. "Your instincts take over.
"When I'm fighting, if I hit somebody hard and hurt him, I know what's coming. Because the guy is trying anything he can to not get knocked out. That's what happened to me. I think if I had been hit again on that play, I would have been out. That's the only logic I can put to it."
The first memory Simon has of that night was in the dressing room after his ejection. "I remember being in the room, and I saw Chris ," Simon said. "My eyes were dilated. I was wobbly still. I didn't even know where I was."
Simon said he was worried about Hollweg's condition. As it turned out, Hollweg required just two stitches for a cut on his chin and played in the Rangers' next game two days later. If Simon had not been suspended, he would have been unable to play for at least the next two weeks because of nausea resulting from the concussion he received.
But having done his time, Simon said he's interested only in moving forward with his career. His job description remains the same, and he expects to play as hard and physically as ever.
"I go out thinking about what I have to do to stay in the league, to play my game," Simon said. "I've always been the type of player who's stuck up for myself and, more importantly, for my teammates. All I've been thinking about is my first game against the Flyers. I'm really excited to get back out and help the boys."