Advice for Ryan Garbutt

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Dallas Stars left winger Ryan Garbutt is a player who has battled a lot of long odds just to play in the NHL. There’s a lot about his back story to which I can personally relate and, as such, he’s someone I would like to see be remembered someday for the right reasons.

Garbutt was never drafted by any NHL team.

He played four years of collegiate hockey in the ECAC and earned an Ivy League college degree from Brown University. Although he was a good collegiate player, pro teams weren’t exactly beating down his door to sign him.

So Garbutt did what I did under very similar circumstances following my graduation from Penn. He started out at the bottom of the professional hockey ladder, playing for $400 a week for the Central League’s Corpus Christi IceRays and tried to establish himself as a tough and physical player who did not back down from anyone. He also put in part of a season in the ECHL.

Finally, after working his way up to the AHL, Garbutt played well enough for the AHL’s Texas Stars to get a chance in the NHL with Dallas. Last year, he even scored 17 goals while playing in primarily a checking role on the Stars’ third line.

These are the types of players that I want to root for and I want to see succeed. However, Ryan Garbutt has really disappointed me over the last year with his propensity for reckless play and careless disregard for other players’ safety.

Within the last 14 months, he received much-deserved suspensions from the NHL for charging and knee-to-knee checks as well as a joke of a fine during the playoffs for spearing an opponent in the cup. The most recent suspension for kneeing Edmonton’s Taylor Hall happened within the last month and it took him all of four games (during which time he managed to score two goals) to get himself in trouble again.

Late in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Garbutt deliberately and dangerously kicked out Dustin Byfuglien’s skates; a slew foot, as this despicable act is commonly called. Earlier in the same game, he did something similar to Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson.

Quite frankly, it’s disgusting. Garbutt deserves whatever suspension is coming to him, and probably a bit more than he’ll actually get.

While he is sitting out, I hope Garbutt ponders just what he is and what he wants to be as a hockey player. He’s shown himself to be someone who can’t be trusted by his own team, and most certainly not by the officials. He’s shown himself as someone who is not deserving of respect by those in the game because — almost inexplicably given how tough his road was to the NHL — he repeatedly shows disrespect to the game.

Garbutt’s actions are NOT those of a tough guy. Knee checks and slew footing and spearing are the actions of a coward. The reason why I am so adamant in criticizing players such as Matt Cooke — and Garbutt, with all of his offenses over the last year, is working his way down into the category of serial dirty players — is that they say all the right things and then go out and show they haven’t changed a bit.

I don’t know Ryan Garbutt personally but if I was coaching or disciplining him what I would say is this: Is this really what you want to be, someone who is untrustworthy? Do you want to be known as a guy who made it the NHL the hardest way possible or someone who repeatedly brings disgrace on himself? Do you want to be a tough player or a sneak? You are book-smart enough to have an Ivy League degree, but do you have common sense? Do you want to get respect back from the game? Then treat it with respect.

Ryan Garbutt could be the type of player who plays a hard and physical but clean game while hustling up a very respectable number of goals for a player in his role. Instead, he chooses — and there is choice involved when it comes to things like spearing and slew footing — to be far less than that. We don’t need players who show reckless disregard and disrespect.

Make a choice, Ryan, and make it now. I hope he makes the right decision and sticks to it for the long haul: for the sake of the game if not for the young man himself. He’s out of second and third chances.

********* Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.