Since I haven’t written anything in a while and everyone is now talking about suspensions what better way to bring traffic back to my site than to write a post that identifies the statistics of this year in NHL discipline. After doing an admittedly half assed search to see if anyone had tracked the number of discipline hearings over the course of the season (a number I could not find) I moved on to a much easier search which was to find the number of suspensions and fines that the NHL has handed down in the 2011-12 regular and post-season with the end game being to show where the NHL has been consistent (or inconsistent) throughout the year. For those looking for a debate on violence in hockey this isn’t it. I’m not passing any judgment on what occurs just the manner that it’s handed down.
Some of the results surprised me a great deal. For instance the disciplining of boarding calls. There were 15 rulings against players this season on supplementary discipline for boarding calls. Eight rules resulted in fines, seven that resulted in suspensions. Already this is huge inconsistency, but then you the suspension rulings and of the 7 suspensions five different lengths of suspension were handed down. Of course some of this can be attributed to repeat offenders like Dan Carcillo and Jody Shelley, but when another repeat offender like Shane Doan walks away with a $2,500 fine it still leaves you scratching your head.
|Average Suspension||# of FINES||# of Suspensions|
|Agression against unwilling||1.00||1||1|
|Checking from Behind||2.17||0||6|
|Illegal Hit to the Head||3.36||3||11|
|Leaving Bench for a fight||5.00||1||1|
Boarding seem to be the offense that has the least specific penalty attached to it which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me because it always seems to look the worst, then I consider how Boarding can be modified with Illegal Hit to the Head, Charging, Interference, Late Hits, Elbowing, Cross-Checking, Checking from behind, etc. and the inconsistencies start to make more sense.
Assuming that a reviewed hit is just the basic definition of boarding is a $2,500 fine that would explain why that would be the most common ruling. Now if that boarding call had some combination of other infractions it would then be considered suspendable. Of course repeat offenses will carry some weight as well, but I’d argue that injury shouldn’t (I’ll get to my argument on that later.)
Possibly more surprising with than the inconsistencies with boarding, was the consistency with Illegal hits targeting the head. The majority of the time this was a 3 game suspension after Shanahan got off to a rocking start with 3 inconsistent rulings to Brendan Smith, Clarke MacArthur and James Wisniewski in the pre-season.
There were only 3 fines handed out, one of which was for Shea Weber’s infraction on Henrik Zetterberg in the playoffs which doesn’t truly capture the essence of the rule anyway and may be better defined as aggression against an unwilling opponent (roughing.)
It was this consistency of three game suspensions that makes the James Neal one game suspension so perplexing. Neal had two clear cut infractions in the same game that fall into the illegal hit to the head ruling, one of which already had earned him a misconduct penalty. With consistency already in place Shanahan choose to instead go with a minimal ruling on a player who had already been fined earlier this season. Rather than even a three game suspension with possibly a repeat offender top off, Neal could be back on the ice in game five (if the Penguins push the series that far.)
One of the main things I hoped to accomplish in looking at suspensions was whether or not Shanahan goes easier on star players, and without data on who was called for hearings that story is somewhat incomplete. In the absence of that information instead I’m limited to examining Misconduct and Match Penalties, along with seeing how those guilty of supplemental discipline were treated.
First things first, of the five match penalties during the season only one (Nick Johnson) escaped supplementary discipline.
Secondly, there were 59 gross misconducts in the league this season. Certainly not all of them were for suspendable offenses, but what is interesting are the names who appear on the list of gross misconducts, but not on the suspension or fine lists. Ryan Smyth, and Zach Bogosian, both twice guilty of gross misconducts received no additional penalty this season. The same can be said for Mikhail Grabovski, Henrik Zetterberg, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards, Teemu Selanne, Ales Hemsky and Stephen Weiss all who were guilty of a gross misconduct this season.
Of course when you get down to the misconduct level the list grows even further. There were 238 misconducts called by officials this season and some of the more interesting names on that list (in addition to those above) include Zdeno Chara, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, David Backes, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Cal Clutterbuck, and Steve Ott. Many of the names I’ve listed play the game very close to the edge and arguably relied on some star power to avoid discipline.
On the other side of things when discipline has been handed down there seems to be very little consideration given to a players compensation. Of the players that received discipline the average salary (not cap hit) was $2.3 million dollars, $100,000 less than the league average salary. The number is higher when looking at the average salary of fined players $2.375 million, and lower for suspensions ($2.25 million.)
|# of occurences||Salary of Offender||Salary of Victim||Offender Pts||Victim Pts||% of Offenders being better Players|
|1 GAME SUSPENSIONS||11||$2,460,455||$1,665,000||25||35||36.4%|
|2-3 GAME SUSPENSIONS||26||$2,037,019||$2,474,327||23||23||42.3%|
|4-5 GAME SUSPENSIONS||10||$2,155,500||$2,444,000||17||29||20.0%|
|OVER 5 GAME SUSPENSIONS||3||$3,341,667||$2,683,333||16||27||33.3%|
When looking at the players who were targeted the numbers are slightly higher. The average player who was victim to a suspendable offense was $2.3 million, and the victim of an offense that a player was fined for was $2.83 million dollars.
Of course compensation is just one area of comparison and it is flawed by entry level contracts (Jeff Skinner, John Tavares, and P.K. Subban are some of the notables on this list.) but as they appear as both the offender and the victim there is a sense of balance.
The next area that comparison is in looking at the average point totals. The average offender in the NHL had 26 points this season. The average victim had 30. Some variance is starting to occur, and may speak to where the difference occurs might speak volumes. For fines the offenders averaged 32 points and the victim averaged 33. When looking at suspensions the offenders averaged 22 points while the victims had 27. It is starting to look more like you get a stiffer sentence if you go after better players.
Finally in comparing offenders to the victims I made straight up judgment calls on who is the better player relying on little more than my sports gut (scientific, right?) This meant making tough calls like who is better Jared Boll or Joe Thornton, or Patrik Elias vs Mike Blunden, or in actual seriousness who is better John Tavares or Zach Parise (Tavares), or Brad Staubitz or Cody Bass (Staubitz.)
When looking at the players side by side only 40% of the time would I say the offender was a better player than the victim. That increased to 41% when looking at fines, and dropped to 37% for suspensions. For suspensions over 3 games only 23% of the time was the offender the better player and of those calls where the offender was the better player it wasn’t as easy as comparing Andy Sutton to Gabriel Landeskog.
So over 1200 words in and I feel like I need to make my point. And that is that the NHL needs to create some kind of logic based formula for handing down punishment. Crazy I know. Unfortunately it can’t poorly matter of fact and it will rely on some level of judgment. I’ll walk you through my steps and you can call me an asshole/idiot in the comments.
STEP 1: Pressing Charges
Let’s lose “the league reviews every hit” rhetoric. If a team feels that a player on the opposition committed an offense that warrants supplemental discipline they can put it forward to the league publicly. I would also argue that the NHLPA be invited to put forward claims to show their commitment to the victims and not only be viewed as the defender of the aggressor.
STEP 2: Reviewing the play
The league then uses all elements at its disposal to determine if the offense warrants supplemental discipline. This would include all camera angles and discussion with in game officials. If they find the claim to be invalid it ends here with a brief explanation of why it does not call for an additional penalty. If it does call for supplemental discipline then it moves onto sentencing.
STEP 3: Punishment Matrix
If the play involved an elbow that was intended to for its victim or there was a blatant slew-foot, or the ever so common targeting of the head occurs why not have a set in stone penalty. Maybe a slew-foot starts at a fine, maybe the head hunting starts at three games. You then look at additional elements, “did they leave their feet”, that’s an extra game, did he shout a racial slur while it was happening, tack an extra two on. Has the offender committed an offense in the past three seasons that warranted supplemental discipline, add two games for every prior.
At this point there is no purpose for hearing, everything at this point should be fact. If Step 4 is considered necessary you can share your ruling now with consistent clear cut evidence.
STEP 4: Maliciousness
Here’s where it gets complicated and unpopular. Let’s take the recent Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa as the example. Let’s say the punishment matrix gives him 3 games for an illegal hit to the head, an extra two games for leaving his feet, an extra 2 for charging, and four more games for having previous supplementary discipline in the past three seasons. He’s up to nine games and some might consider that too low. This is where the league has an option to call a hearing with the offending player, a team rep, player rep, and official representatives. A case is made for why the suspension will be above and beyond. There is no opportunity to argue for a penalty less than what is listed in the Punishment Matrix.
So that is my flawed approach. Since I’m not a lawyer I don’t exactly consider it air tight, but rather something that makes sense to me.
One of the things you’ll notice is absent from it is consideration if the victim is injured. While that certainly might factor into any maliciousness hearing, it should not be ruling anything in Step 3. Punishment of the action can be enforced consistently, when punishing the outcome you wind up with Shea Weber getting $2,500 fines for clearly attacking Henrik Zetterberg.
Another thing I never really touched on is that Brendan Shanahan is not the right person to be making any judgment, nor is any former player. This is best suited for people with a background in labour law as the number one roadblock in consistent suspensions is the fragile relationship between the NHL and NHLPA.
That brings me to my final point. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring this season is it entirely possible that the NHL has been avoiding handing out long term suspensions to members of an organization that is threatening to shut down the league? Each game missed is taking thousands of dollars out of the players pockets and while player safety has been an important league issue, the PA has different priorities. In fact on the news page of NHLPA.com you cannot a story from this year calling for improvements in player safety though there are certainly mentions of their members being fined/suspended.
That’s not to say that the NHLPA doesn’t care, as a healthy membership is in their best interest. And that’s not to say the NHL cares about anything other than wanting their commodities to be protected, but at this point it seems the players would rather have their full paychecks than put their safety first, not an uncommon philosophy from men in their 20’s and 30’s in my opinion.
For now it’s best not to put any stock into the Department of Player Safety during the playoffs you’re only going to be disappointed. It’s a political, and therefore a thankless position in the league, but it is still one that can be performed better. I’d suggest for now instead of worrying about how many games Raffi Torres gets, it’s better just to wish Marian Hossa a full recovery in the timeliest manner possible.