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Andy Sutton, An Independent Appeal Process, And Why It Probably Won't Happen

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Having been suspended twice already this season, punishments that will cost him almost 12 per cent of his $2,250,000 salary, I think it's safe to say that Andy Sutton isn't the biggest fan of the job Brendan Shanahan is doing as the head of NHL discipline. In Joanne Ireland's article in the Edmonton Journal yesterday Sutton voiced his displeasure with the current system that sees appeals of all supplemental discipline decisions handled by Gary Bettman rather than an impartial third party and his desire to see that changed in the next CBA.

Personally, I have no issue with the length of either of the Sutton suspensions this season but I do agree with him that the system is less than impartial in its current form. In light of Sutton's comments Greg Wyshyski looked at the issue earlier today and likewise concluded that "the idea that Gary Bettman is the final word on suspension protests is absurd." Alright then, we all agree that the system is flawed so it'll get changed in the next CBA, right? I wouldn't bet on it.

For starters I would have to assume that NHL owners like the system as is. They may not like it when a player on their team is suspended but, in the bigger picture, having the first and last say in player discipline is a good card for the league to hold. If an issue arises that needs to be addressed immediately, head-shots for example, the NHL can re-invent the system on the fly without needing to worry about precedents set by previous discipline decisions. In many ways that is exactly what Shanahan has done this season.

Regardless of how much the owners may like the current system, that's not to say that they wouldn't be open to changing it as part of the CBA negotiations but they'd almost certainly want something in return. Read any NHL news release related to a fine and you'll see "the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement" every time. Clearly the NHL would like to fine the players more but their hands are tied by the CBA. Perhaps the NHL owners would be willing to include a third party in the discipline process in exchange for a maximum fine of five percent of the player's salary. Obviously that's just a number I pulled out of thin air but you get the point; the players will have to give something up in order to change the system.

Assuming that the owners were even willing to make the trade, would the players as a whole be willing to do the same? Sure the Suttons of the NHL would like to see the system changed but what's the upside for the average player that doesn't run afoul of the law on a monthly basis? Why would they be willing to give up anything in CBA negotiations for the small group that can't seem to stay within the clearly defined rules of the league? And if they were willing to make concessions in one area, why would the corresponding benefit go to the minority that plays on, or just over the line potentially threatening the health and livelihood of the majority?

No doubt this issue will be brought up during negotiations for the next CBA but I'll be very surprised if it doesn't get left on the cutting room floor before all is said and done.