This past week in the NHL has been an interesting one when it comes to player safety as we would see a fine, a suspension, and absolutely nothing done with three particular plays that has gotten the hockey world lit a blaze with controversy.
First we’ll start with the suspension handed down to San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane on Saturday, Feb. 15th for elbowing Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk on Friday, Feb. 14th.
In what is a standard play in majority of board battles in all games, Kane’s elbow went up and made contact with Pionk’s head. After the game the Department of Player Safety felt that the play was suspendable, and handed Kane a three game ban for the play. However, a similar play happened when the Boston Bruins hosted the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, Feb. 8th. Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse would elbow Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy along the boards and only receive a two minute penalty for roughing. Crouse would have no hearing, and would not be fined either for the play.
Another example would be in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Sammy Blais of the St. Louis Blues would explode through then Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, and would make contact with Braun’s head in front of the referee.
So what constitutes a suspension and what doesn’t when we look at these three plays? Two had no discipline to them, and one did. Evander Kane was rightfully upset about this and spoke out about it moments after his suspension was announced.
Now despite how many people may feel about Kane, it can’t be denied that he has a valid point about the NHL and the Department of Player Safety. We have seen countless plays that have gone unpunished, and have seen players suspended for the most minor offenses. Or we just see fines which makes no sense, especially when the play was a suspendable offense. Then we also get stuff like this…
On Wednesday, Feb. 12th Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara was fined $5,000, the max allowable under the CBA, for cross checking Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher in the face. As Kane mentions in his tweet is that the original thought is that that offence would be worth at least a game if it were a playoff game, and it usually is too as we’ve seen in the past Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom get suspended for a similar cross check before for one game. So why wasn’t Chara suspended at least three games for this offense, because based on DoPS logic one playoff game is equal to three regular season games, but was only given a fine instead?
Some can say it’s favoritism, and I can legitimately see that argument, but at the same time it shows a lack of consistency and discipline on the NHL’s part. Kane’s call for a third party to be the ones to dole out the punishments is a warranted one, but one also has to say that there needs to be a more clear cut system to how these punishments are handed out too. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that you have a layered punishment system, like with the embellishment rule, where for every time a player does the offense the punishment steepens.
For instance, the NHL wants to get head shots out of the game, but they have no true form of getting rid of it. We see countless head shots that go unpenalized because of this. Why can’t it be first offence for throwing a head shot, blatant or not, be an automatic three games with every following offence become steeper to send the message that this is not acceptable and needs to be removed from the game. Having something like that which would be more consistent would be ideal, but even then we’ve seen the NHL suspend a player for three games, and then they do the same play again only to be fined or have nothing happen.
The NHL has a problem, and it needs to be fixed. However, I doubt it’ll be fixed or taken seriously under the regime of Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Oh, and one final note. This morning before I started working on this article the NHL fined Canadiens head coach Claude Julien $10,000 for comments criticizing the officials. But that’ll be a story for another day as that does play a part in the issues with the NHL and the discipline, or lack thereof, in today’s game.