Fixing Supplemental Discipline - An Elegant Solution

Headhunter? Photo by Resolute, via Wikimedia Commons, creative commons license

Raffi Torres, just another thug on a long list of players who don't get it. It's also becoming painfully obvious that Brendan Shanahan, Gary Bettman, NHL GMs and anyone else involved with the determination on how players are suspended and fined don't get it either. Players are out of control. We've gotten here due to a system that thinks $2500 dollars to Shea Weber or 1 game to James Neal for plays that intend to injure, are some kind of deterant.

What I propose is a system of discipline that will ring home with players and remove the subjectiveness involved with how the NHL currently handles its Supplemental Discipline Process.

Before I get going, you must understand this quintessential truth. Rules are rules. No player, official, NHL or team employee is special or above them. Severity of resulting injury doesn't matter. A rule is broken. That is the trigger, period.

The first thing that must be done is to take the process out of the hands of one office or one man. The Campbell/Shanahan/Office of Player Safety system is a failure. As the game becomes ever more dangerous this one man system is far too subjective in determining the proper course of action for an offending player. Star status, playoff status, and an array of other factors including complaints from GMs and direction from on high are factoring in.

This can't happen. Remember, rules are rules. No one is above them.

What I propose is a two phase system. The first involves the NHL leveraging the existing function of Match Penalties.

21.1 Match Penalty - A match penalty involves the suspension of a player for the balance of the game and the offender shall be ordered to the dressing room immediately.

Match Penalties are called sometimes, Arron Asham and Nicklas Backstrom were both issued Match Penalties over the past few days. The process begins with NHL officials being instructed to call Match Penalties by the letter of the law. For example with Torres' hit on Marion Hossa:

42.4 Match Penalty (Charging) – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by charging.

Without a doubt, Torres met the definition of this. Or in the case of Arron Asham on Brayden Schenn:

59.4 Match Penalty (Cross-checking) – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by cross-checking.

The second part of the first phase is to implement a no-nonsense tiered system attached to Match Penalties. No Fines. Immediate suspension following cumulative Match Penalties in a 3 year span (Individual Match Penalties fall off your record 3 years after the initial date IF there has been no re-occurrence).

  • 1st Match Penalty - 3 Game Suspension without pay
  • 2nd Match Penalty - 10 Game Suspension without pay
  • 3rd Match Menalty - 25 Game Suspension without pay
  • 4th Match Penalty - 50 Game Suspension without pay
  • 5th Match Penalty - Season Ban (if season half over ban for remainder of season plus following season)

This seems harsh, but Matt Cooke got 17 games and look what happened. He transformed himself to remain in the game. No other suspension has come close in severity and no one else has gotten the message. If it doesn't have teeth than it is just PR window dressing. No player would be above these rules. No one's star status, streak, records, playoff situation, nothing can avert these terms. No one at the NHL can overrule, lift, suspend, or purge any part of this once called on the ice, and so begins Phase Two.

Players could undoubtedly appeal a Match Penalty induced suspension, but those hearings should no longer be conducted by the NHL or any employee of it. Appeals would have to be filed prior to the start of the player's next possible game and heard (with judgement rendered) by a (minimum) 5 member independent arbitrator (paid equally by both the NHL and NHLPA 50/50) within 72 hours. (players may play while suspensions are under appeal). The ruling of the panel is final.

No former players, or NHL employees would be eligible to serve on the Independent Arbitration Panel.

In addition teams would be empowered to file a grievance before their next game (as in the case with Torres) when a Match Penalty is missed. If the Blackhawks feel that Torres should have received a Match Penalty they would appeal to the same 5 member independent arbitration panel, who would have again 72 hours to render a ruling. Again the decision is final. To limit abuse, teams would only get five such grievance filings in a season with an additional allowance of one granted during the playoffs if they qualify for the postseason.

To use the Torres example, Stan Bowman would have until the Blackhawks next game start to file a grievance that Torres should have been issued a Match Penalty. If the Independent Arbitration Panel rules in favor of the Blackhawks, Torres would be immediately assessed a 3 game suspension, even if he had played since the infraction in question.

Why would this work?

- It hits players where it counts. Players with a 2nd match penalty would lose 12.5% of their season salary. That's not chump change. For Raffi Torres that's $218,750. For Shea Weber that's $937,500. Players who value money will have no choice but to think about changing their game.

- It hits teams where it counts. No team wants to lose a player. Losing a player for 10 games can cause all kinds of roster problems. Players being called up can trigger exposure to waivers for playing so many games. No GM would want a liability on their team that could potentially be out 25 games or more the next time he is an idiot. It would start to help weed out the bad element and force a culture shift.

-It removes the NHL from blame or accusation for favoritism or subjective discipline. One standard, applied to all and reviewed by a panel paid to be 100% objective. Rule broken or not. That's it. No waiting to see how bad a guy is hurt, no asking if the person hit deserved it. Officials make the call and if needed an independent panel decides if rule was broken, judgement is rendered. All sides agree to respect the ruling of the panel that none have control over. Objective.

-It establishes a black and white standard. Player knows what happens the next time he gets hit with a Match Penalty. He knows his rights afterwards. Teams also know their rights on missed calls.

Sure there are holes in this, because it is theoretical. However it does serve to do what I intend, illustrate the first step on a path to fixing a broken system that is only fostering a dangerous environment, that threatens a generation of hockey players.

The crux of all of this is that NHL Officials be trained to call penalties properly from top to bottom. No more officiating the score. No more "it's the playoffs" Remember, rules are rules. Officials educated on and empowered to call the game properly can trigger was is badly needed in our game: An objective supplemental discipline process with a clear cut standard free from accusations of favoritism.

Thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this FanPost are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of the staff.

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