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Ridly Greig’s Empty-Net Clapper Has Turned Into A Provincial Scandal

Morgan Rielly cross-checks Ridly Greig after an empty-net slap shot.
Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

Wasn't this unwritten rule nonsense settled when the bat flip became mundane? Of course not, because the unwritten rules are surprisingly elastic and can actually be written as "anything you do, say, or think that pisses me off at any given time." The latest instance is the Clapper Violation, which happened this past Saturday when Ottawa's Ridly Greig wound up and drilled an emphatic slap shot into Toronto's empty net at the end of the Senators' 5-3 victory, enraging Toronto's Morgan Rielly into delivering a malicious crosscheck to Greig's face. This triggered not only a game-ending scrum—as opposed to a game-ending brawl—but a quasi-in-person hearing for Rielly with the NHL's Department Of Public Safety.

But first, the clapper in question, which is nothing more than a slap shot with a bigger backswing for greater force and in this case emphasis, and the ensuing transgression:

That'll get your neurologist's attention. Greig avoided serious injury and showed up at Monday's practice. His transgression of slapping an empty-net goal, instead of just guiding it in, is what makes it a clapper. After the game, Maple Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves gave his interpretation, as well as his endorsement of Rielly's response. "I mean, the guy takes a clapper into our net, you gonna go play pattycake with him?" Reaves said. "No, there's gotta be a message sent, and I don't think a push is a message, to be honest with you. I thought it was appropriate."

The theatrically cranky antiquarian Don Cherry, who would yearn for the really good old days when you could have a line brawl in church, explained it all on his own Grapevine Podcast with his children. "I'm glad Rielly was on and I'm glad he did it," Cherry said. "I know there's no rule in the book that says you don't do that, but you just don't do that." In other words, it's OK until it isn't—the kind of generosity of interpretation that has launched a million fists, both on ice and in taverns from the Yukon to Labrador.

This is a particularly Canadian example of the code because it involves the Maple Leafs, Canada's team and its most established reminder of futility in the face of popularity. It involves Rielly, the Leafs' best defenseman and an important cog in what will ultimately be their 57th consecutive quixotic run for the Stanley Cup. And it involves the wonderfully contentious debate over proportionate response and who gets to decide what's appropriate in the face of such an outrage of etiquette.

In the NHL, an egregious rulebreaker can either have a hearing from the league over the phone for a lesser offense, which typically results in a short suspension or heavy fine, or be summoned to New York for an in-person meeting that can include a greater punishment. Rielly was originally scheduled to have the in-person meeting, but a Tuesday morning snowstorm in New York shifted the arrangement to a virtual hearing, although he's still eligible to be suspended for more than five games. The NHL still wants to throw several chapters of the book at him. For further detail, crib what you wish from Elliotte Friedman's explainer. Update (6:41 p.m.): The league announced a five-game suspension for Rielly.

The end result doesn't even matter for this to be the perfect story for 20 years ago: ritual elevated to multi-tiered levels, all because of a clapper in a game that only served to give the 15th-place-on-merit Senators a small brag over their archrival. The Leafs are far more concerned with the top of the Eastern Conference, because those teams can hammer them in the playoffs or keep them out entirely. The Senators are just a regional annoyance, nothing more. This is a monument to taking a small thing, adding enough ingredients and layers to make Paul Hollywood black out on camera, and finishing with a touch of out-of-fashion interprovincial jealousy that folks born after 1990 never knew existed. It's the type of overblown feud that the unwritten rules were meant to create in the first place. That it involves the Leafs just makes it that much tastier.

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