Monday, January 9, 2012

How the NHL should handle suspensions

When I was bored last night and was going through my bookmarked web-sites in search of something to do, I stumbled across this article from Adam Proteau over at The Hockey News. After reading it, I came up with a new system for assessing suspensions in the NHL that would focus more on deterrence than punishment.

It goes a little something like this:

1st Offense: Number of Games Suspended and Fine Assessed is based solely on the severity of the incident.
2nd Offense: Number of Games Suspended and Fine Assessed is based on the severity of the incident IN ADDITION TO the Number of Games Suspended and Fine Assessed from the first offense.
3rd Offense (and 4th, 5th, 6th, etc...): Number of Games Suspended and Fine Assessed is based on the severity of the incident IN ADDITION TO the Number of Games Suspended and Fine Assessed from all previous offenses.

Take Daniel Carcillo, who finds himself suspended for 7 games for an egregiously dirty hit on Edmonton's Tom Gilbert. Carcillo has been suspended for a total of 19 games across the length of his pugnacious career. This is what his rap sheet would look like under my proposed guidelines.

10/17/2008 - Suspended for 2 Games (Total Suspension Length: 2 Games)
12/6/2009 - Suspended for 4 Games in addition to 2 Accrued Games (Total Suspension Length: 6 Games)
3/30/2010 - Suspended for 2 Games in addition to 6 Accrued Games (Total Suspension Length: 8 Games)
5/17/2011 - Suspended for 2 Games in addition to 8 Accrued Games (Total Suspension Length: 10 Games)
10/29/2011 - Suspended for 2 Games in addition to 10 Accrued Games (Total Suspension Length: 12 Games)
1/4/2012 - Suspended for 7 Games in addition to 12 Accrued Games (Total Suspension Length: 19 Games)

Think about this: if Carcillo had just come off of a 12 game suspension (in addition to what would probably be a pretty hefty financial penalty) for his hit on Joni Pitkanen in October and he saw Tom Gilbert in an almost identical vulnerable position, do you think he would have finished that hit?

Think about it from a GM or coach's perspective. Do you really want a guy on your team who, facing the threat of at least a 13 game suspension, hits someone so recklessly? At what point do you stop paying for a player and start making donations straight to the Retired Players Fund?

Purely out of interest, I did the numbers on a few more of the NHL's serial delinquents.

Matt Cooke - Pittsburgh
2/21/2004 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 2)
1/27/2009 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 4)
11/29/2009 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 6)
2/9/2011 - Suspended for 4 Games (TSL:10)
3/21/2011- Suspended for 10 Reg. Season Games and First Round of Playoffs (TSL:17)
-Total Games Suspended: 39

(The rationale for not adding the playoff games for which he was suspended is that it would probably be a little odd to link a policy this drastic to how successful any given team is in the playoffs)

Andy Sutton - Edmonton
10/15/2005 - Suspended for 4 Games (TSL:4)
11/1/2011- Suspended for 5 Games (TSL: 9)
12/31/2011- Suspended for 8 Games (TSL: 17)
-Total Games Suspended: 30

Jody Shelley - Philadelphia
12/5/2002 - Suspended for 1 Game (TSL: 1)
2/23/2003 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 3)
3/25/2004 - Suspended for 3 Games (TSL: 6)
12/13/2010 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 8)
12/29/2010 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 10)
9/22/2011 - Suspended for 5 Games (TSL: 15)
-Total Games Suspended: 43

Trevor Gillies - New York I.
3/2/2011 - Suspended for 9 Games (TSL: 9)
3/30/2011 - Suspended for 10 Games (TSL:19)
-Total Games Suspended: 28

(This one I find interesting because Gillies is the kind of player who gravitates towards mind-numbing violence worthy of suspension during the 6 minutes or so that he's on the ice. Would he have taken a run at Cal Clutterbuck like he did last year if there was a 19 game suspension and an even heavier fine on the other side of it?)

And since this is ultimately a Dallas Stars blog, I have to avoid being a homer by highlighting Dallas' history of bad behavior. Fortunately, only one Stars player has been suspended more than once in his career.

You have one guess as to who that is.

Steve Ott
3/12/2008 - Suspended for 3 Games (TSL: 3)
3/2/2009 - Suspended for 1 Game (TSL: 4)
10/27/2009 - Suspended for 2 Games (TSL: 6)
-Total Games Suspended: 13

The thing about this strategy that will probably hold it or anything like it back from coming to fruition would be how drastic a measure it is. This would result in a very large amount of wasted money for several different parties, but the fact that it would be stopped for that reason alone just goes to show how deep-seated the violent culture in the NHL has become.

Proteau's article featured this quote from Daniel Carcillo:
“It’s weird now. Now, you have to process every hit that you're about to make. It's really, really hard. But if you don't want to sit out games and get fined, you have to start doing it.”
 Proteau responded with this:
"Yeah, imagine that – you have to actually be responsible for your play. The fact Carcillo has suddenly arrived at this important philosophical conclusion tells you all you need to know about how little of an impression all his previous run-ins with the long arm of the NHL’s law have made on him."
And he's absolutely right. Something needs to change.

Would taking fighting out of the game fix it? Re-introducing a little bit of the interference from the old days? Limiting the number of skaters a team can dress to 17 as to eliminate the Rent-a-Thugs?

Strangely enough, the last option (which I will admit was the most attractive one to me before research) might not have as far-reaching an effect as some think. I recently took a look at the kinds of players who are inflicting concussions around the league. Based on TSN's injury list, I found that only one of the players responsible for concussing a player on the list played less than 10 minutes a night on average. This was limited to the list on the day I researched it, mind you, but it still speaks to the fundamental issue at the center of the debate.

It's not the amount of players on the bench that needs changing, it's the culture of the game.

Someone somewhere needs to make it very clear that it's not okay to throw yourself around the ice indiscriminately like a red shell from Mario Kart. Sheriff Shanny is in a prime position to do just that by coming down hard and firm on the league's ne'er-do-wells.

Some might say that changing the sport in such a way will "pacify" a game that has become known for its physicality. That seems a bit strange to me. The whole time I've been a hockey fan, I was under the impression that the objective was to score more goals than the opposing team. The Stanley Cup is ultimately awarded to the team that does this the best, not the team who has inflicted the most bangs and bruises.

When I was first starting to learn how to hit and be hit as a Peewee hockey player, my coach told basically summed up hitting in a simple sentence. He told us that the point of hitting in hockey was to separate a puck-carrier from the puck, not to hurt the puck-carrier. This is why the notion that the whole point of the NHL is actually just to pay a bunch of people to run into other people came as a bit of a shock to me.

If players start to complain that their livelihoods would be at stake were they to be subjected to such a strict change, they need only be reminded that there are players in this league whose livelihoods are already being compromised.

They're the ones playing by the rules.