Post Classifieds

Column: NHL offers explanations and videos for disciplinary measures against players

By Matt Stypulkoski
On April 17, 2012

The NHL does a lot of thing right as a league, among the best ideas they have had in recent years is the implementation of a transparent player discipline system.

Starting this season, with ex-player Brendan Shanahan as the league's new disciplinarian, the NHL has begun releasing videos on its website after every disciplinary hearing that is held.

This newfound level of transparency has been met with rave reviews from fans and media-types alike, because they come with an explanation of the specific incident and punishment, rather than the bland press releases typically offered by other leagues, as well as the NHL in years past.

But with this transparency has come criticism as to how dangerous and dirty players are reviewed and punished. It quickly became apparent that one of the principal platforms on which Shanny uses to make his decisions about player discipline is the physical state of the other player involved. That is to say that whether or not the apparent victim of the crime was injured in the play.

This way of looking at cheap shots and other dirty plays has come under attack all season long, but even more fiercely in the last few days, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs carry on and play gets more intense and physical.

Over the first several days of the playoffs, we saw a failed sucker punch followed up by an attempt to slam a player's head into the glass, a brutal beating of an unsuspecting and unwilling opponent and a vicious elbow that targeted the head of a forward digging out a puck in the corner.

All three cases involved dirty play - severely dirty play - and yet all three resulted in far different punishments. In each of the videos released about the incidents, Shanahan pointed to the severity or lack thereof of the resulting injury from the play as evidence in his decision-making process.

But is that really a good standard on which to judge?

Clearly each one of these plays was a vicious attempt to injure another player - some premeditated, others more spontaneous, but nonetheless done with brutality in mind. So should the outcome of the play really affect the punishment?

Well, let me ask you, if someone tries to steal your car, but can't figure out how to hotwire it and leaves it where it is, are they punished in the same light as the person that successfully gets away with the car?

Of course, both perpetrators should be punished harshly - the intent remains the same no matter what, and failure to discipline can lead to the belief that it's ok to try again - but clearly, the person that did the most actual damage should receive the most forceful consequences.

So then why is this any different? Of course these incidents are all extremely serious threats to player safety and should not be taken lightly -and Shea Weber smashing Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass after missing on a sucker punch was taken far too lightly, a $2500 fine for that is a joke- but they should also be viewed with some sort of perspective as to the big picture.

On Saturday, Ottawa Senators enforcer Matt Carkner jumped Rangers forward Brian Boyle, and proceeded to punch Boyle repeatedly after he had knocked Boyle to the ice even though he was not fighting back.

In the same game, Rangers forward Carl Hagelin threw a dangerous elbow to the head of Senators' star Daniel Alfredsson.

Both were malicious attempts to injure another player. The difference?

Brian Boyle stood up after Carkner got off of him and showed no ill effects, and played the rest of the game, while Alfredsson received a concussion, was knocked out of the game and is now in serious jeopardy of missing at least one game.

Likewise, the punishment for the two crimes was different. Carkner received a one game suspension for his actions, while Hagelin was banned for three.

Frankly, I think Carkner should have received a game or two more, but I have no problem with Hagelin taking the brunt of the discipline from Shanahan's office. After all, Boyle's car is still waiting for him on the corner where he left it. Alfredsson's on the other hand may be missing for a while. 

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