Suspensions like Snowflakes
TFP's Greg Wyshynski speaks with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill
Daly about the future of suspensions, from "mandatory minimums"
to how the NHLPA influences the current justice system.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- In an early February game in
Montreal, Alex Kovalev danced through the middle of the
New York Rangers' zone, carrying into the slot. He was
bumped off the puck by Ryan Hollweg, who chased it to
the corner boards with the Montreal forward in pursuit.
Hollweg won the race, and cleared the puck up ice.
Kovalev, for reasons only known to him, decided to level
him with a blatant, disgustingly vicious right elbow to
the face long after the puck was history.
Later in the same period, Hollweg — no saint, let it be known
— watched Sergei Kostitsyn go to the boards and play the puck
in the Rangers' zone with his back turned to the ice.
Again, after the puck had been played, Hollweg used both of
his arms and drove Kostitsyn's neck and head into the glass.
The Hab crumbled to the ice; Hollweg's smug self-awareness of
his vigilante justice was on full display as he slowly skated
about a foot away and waited for retribution from whatever
Montreal player would attempt to enact it.
Hollweg earned a boarding penalty and a game misconduct. And
No additional discipline from the NHL for either incident.
Despite the fact that the announcers calling the game — on
NBC, no less — labeled them as obviously actionable for League
discipline czar Colin Campbell.
it should be no surprise that a corporate entity like
the NHL is so results oriented, but here it is:
were no substantial injuries as a result of either
though the intent to injure was more clearly defined
in both cases than it was, say, Randy Jones's hit on
Patrice Bergeron, which ended the burgeoning Bruins
star's season and potentially altered the course of
his career. Jones received two games; the Flyers
argued that the injury was the only reason for the
Calling the justice system in the NHL unfair and broken is
nothing revolutionary. What's troubling, however, is how
handcuffed that system appears when it comes to three
standards — prior incidents from a player's past, injuries
resulting from the infraction, and prevention of future acts —
rather than a simple, one might say criminal, standard of
Campbell was asked about the "balancing act" between intent
and results in a conference call following the Jesse Boulerice
cross-check to the face of Ryan Kesler: An intentional maiming
that cost him 25 games. Campbell said:
"I don't know if there's any balancing here. I think we look
at what happened. And we've got a lot of good people to work
with me that have been around this game a long time. And we
look at all the factors surrounding each and every play. And
we try to determine what’s right and what’s wrong and how
wrong did it go.
And in this play, we've always said before—and it's no
different out on the street and any other action that we all
are involved in—we've got to be accountable for the actions we
take. And if bad things happen, that's your risk. And in this
case he decided to do something that resulted in a bad action
but not a terribly bad result. And he was lucky."
Campbell claimed at the time that Boulerice's previous history
of violence in the minor leagues wasn't factored into his
decision. And that's because it couldn't be, in accordance
with the League's agreement with the NHLPA on the matter.
The Players Association has its share of responsibility in
this warped justice, according to Bill Daly, the League's
deputy commissioner. At a recent game in Washington, Daly told
me that a "mandatory minimum:" system — one that would, in
theory, automatically suspend a player like Kovalev or Hollweg
for their blatant disregard for their peers — is opposed by
"It's certainly an idea that's been floated. It's certainly
not something our Players Association is in favor of, at all,"
Then again, it's not something the NHL is exactly enthusiastic
"From time to time, fans will see one incident and how it's
treated and compare it another and say, 'Why were they treated
differently?' " Daly said. "It's not a black and white
science. There's a lot of grey in there. Even if you establish
minimum thresholds, applying the incident to those standards
In fact, Daly compared violent incidents that would appear to
carry a suspension to, of all things, snowflakes: Each one is
So what if a snowflake like Sidney Crosby snaps, and
intentionally Boulerices some guy in the face?
Will the NHL weigh his previous clean record, and the medical
charts of his victim, more than the malicious premeditation of
his actions? Because many fans believe a superstar will get
kid gloves compared to someone like Steve Downie.
"I've heard that to, but I can tell you that having worked
with Colin for nine years, the identity of the perpetrator
really doesn't come into it at all," said Daly.
Finally, some good news for Chris Simon.
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.