Saturday, March 24, 2012

NHL Needs Minimum Suspensions

Our latest incident is Duncan Keith dropping an elbow on Daniel Sedin. Keith was suspended for 5 games and Sedin is out with a concussion.

Most people agreed that Keith would be suspended but everyone seemed lost when it came to agreeing on how many games.

This is because the NHL CBA provides that the length of suspensions is discretionary. It can be 1 game or it can be 20 - or anywhere in between.

In order for the NHL discipline process to be effective, the NHL should strongly consider minimum and harsh suspensions for its various infractions. That same process should provide that the NHL has the discretion to increase - but never decrease - the length of suspensions based upon a number of factors, including injury to the player.

So by way of example, primary contact to the head (like Pacioretty on Letang or Keith on Sedin) would be 20 games. A hit from behind would be 10 games.

When a discipline process is implemented a decision needs to be made: should the punishments be designed to discourage behaviour or eliminate it.

Right now, the NHL discipline process discourages problematic behaviour but is not designed to eliminate it.

Let me ask you this: if Keith knew he was going to get 20 games for elbowing Sedin in the head, would he have done it? Unlikely. And for those players that still engage in questionable on-ice behaviour, the NHL should welcome their temporary banishment from the game.

There are also legal considerations. As we have seen with the NFL, if player health and safety is not of paramount importance, then a league opens itself up to liability.

We know that shots to the head can cause long term neurological issues, such as memory loss, dementia and brain disease. It is incumbent on leagues and player unions to take the necessary steps to protect its members. This is one step in that direction.

Liability drives policy. We know that. Fighting will be out of the game by 2025. There is just too much risk attached to beating guys senseless. The head must be protected. The threat of liability may also encourage the league to give minimum substantial suspensions a hard look.

(While on the topic, the NHL must seriously look to changing equipment so stuff like elbow pads aren't weapons. Player equipment is simply doing too much damage.)

Adopting significant minimum suspensions would create certainty as to punishments and could go a long way to achieving what all fans want: eliminating - and not merely discouraging - cheap shots.

We're better than this. We're better than endorsing, acquiescing, permitting or turning a blind eye to on-ice violence that so clearly falls outside the parameters of incidental contact. We are better - and should strive to be better. The sky won't fall if the NHL suddenly puts its foot down and says no more. The sky would stay squarely over our heads, and we might all be surprised to see the game improve and rise to its rightful and prominent position in the world of sports.


Anonymous said...

Very good post, I like this a lot! The NHL definitely needs minimum suspensions.

Jon Heshka said...

The NHL has a problem administering justice. In a fast and furious game that has both incidental (accidental bumps and collisions) and intentional contact (checks, fights, etc.), it is virtually impossible to prove in the balance of probabilities that a hit to the head was - and here's the league's approach - intentional rather than instinctive. This is both the test and the threshold of guilt that the league applies.

Chicago Blackhawk Duncan Keith says he didn't mean to elbow Vancouver Canuck Daniel Sedin. He says the play was developing so quick he had no time to respond. Video of the hit suggests otherwise. The league's rules are wrong and ties the hands of NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan in terms of what should be done.

Make any hit to the head where it is the primary point of contact suspendable and make the penalties hurt for the offending player regardless of whether it was done on purpose or not. Keith's five game suspension is grossly inadequate. Shanahan called the hit dangerous and reckless and yet only suspended Keith for five games! Only by imposing lengthy suspensions that catch the attention of players and serve to sufficiently disincentivize them will we see a reduction of such cheap shots in the NHL.