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March 8, 2007

Injustice for All
The latest NHL suspensions prove that the league's disciplinary system is an inconsistent, politicized farce, writes TFP Columnist Greg Wyshynski.

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- (INT. HOSPITAL CAFETERIA — A man sits alone, sipping a cup of coffee that his taste buds wish had been from Tim Horton's instead. He is NHL SUIT, and he is in this hospital because a player not named Cam Janssen has delivered a clean, though slightly late, hit that has sent a player not named Tomas Kaberle off on a stretcher and into the emergency room. A second man walks up to him, cell phone attached to his ear. He is NHL DISCIPLINE GUY, and takes a seat.)

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Sorry for being a little late. I was on a conference call with HQ; we're trying to figure out a way to get the Predators and Penguins into the Stanley Cup Finals on the condition that the loser ships off to Kansas City next season. How's the victim?

NHL SUIT: Stable. Looks like a mild concussion.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Concussion, huh? And the hit was late?

NHL SUIT: Our tech guys counted about 1.3 seconds after he released the puck. Hit was clean, maybe a shade late — nothing compared to some of the boarding calls we've seen this year. I guess the difference is that this guy got hurt where others got up.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: So we have a stretcher, a hospital, a concussion and a late check: That feels like about a two-game suspension for the guy that hit him. Wait, was there a stick involved?


NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: That takes it down to one game. Did he leave his feet? Throw an elbow?

NHL SUIT: Tough to say on both counts. And remember, there was no penalty called.


NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Well, we certainly can't suspend the refs for incompetence, can we!? How's the media dealing with this?

NHL SUIT: The Toronto media is treating it like Zidane's headbutt was a romantic kiss on the forehead by comparison.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Did you just say the Toronto media is upset? That's an automatic two-gamer, on top of the one he already earned, so that's a three-game suspension.

NHL SUIT: They're also claiming that Mr. Bettman is trying to market violence to U.S. sports fans by allowing these hits to occur and go without severe punishment; which is insulting to Canadian fans who love a good, clean hockey match without the ugly stuff.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Bettman? Market violence? That guy's done more to discourage physical play than a lifeguard at a community swimming pool, and now he's selling blood to the masses? Did I miss a memo?

And Canadian fans hate the dicey, quasi-legal physical stuff? Yeah, that must be why the Leafs had so much trouble drawing during the 1990s, and why Dave Semenko could be elected the mayor of Edmonton tomorrow if he declared his candidacy.

Tell me about the guy who hit him — how much does he make?

NHL SUIT: About $450,000 per season.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: OK, he makes peanuts, so we won't ignore this one like we ignored that Ovechkin hit from behind on Briere, which was about 20 times more injurious. Tell me more.

NHL SUIT: He's what they call an "enforcer."

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: In an instigator-rule league? C'mon…

NHL SUIT: Maybe they call him a "goon."

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: In a post-lockout world? Impossible.

NHL SUIT: How about "a physical winger who sees limited minutes but changes the tempo of a game."

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Thats more like it. A character guy! Let's knock it down to one game. Wait, did they show the player being taken on off on the stretcher on both TSN and ESPN?


NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: That's a minimum five-game suspension. Please don't tell me we're getting coverage on CNN and The Today Show.

NHL SUIT: Looks like they're not going to go 'Bertuzzi' on this one.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Minus one, down to four. What did Don Cherry say about it?

NHL SUIT: He yelled something about "old time hockey" and told everyone to "quit whining."

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Plus one, back to five. Any racial, religious or sexual epitaphs that led to the hit in question?

NHL SUIT: Uh... no.

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: Thank God. Last thing the league needs now is a Cosmo Kramer or Ann Coulter on skates. Minus two, back to three.

That settles it! A three-game suspension for this unfortunate lapse in judgment by a character guy, but at the same time a horrible example of the headhunting culture in the National Hockey League that must be punished.

NHL SUIT: Here's what I don't get, sir.

If there was no penalty called, and the hit doesn't seem to meet any of the standards for illegality other than a completely arbitrary ruling on when a check is considered "late," should there even be a suspension at all?

Aren't we simply basing our decision to suspend him on the level of media outcry rather than the alleged crime itself?

Worse yet, it seems as though the extent of a player's injury is what determines the length — on in many cases, the genesis — of a suspension these days. We've both seen boarding penalties and stick fouls this season that had a clear intent to injure and were whistled for being illegal during the game; yet because the victims were not taken off on a stretcher or kept overnight in an infirmary, the offending party was never suspended.

In the unfocused eyes of our league and the hypocritical hockey media, we should only condemn a player's actions if they result in some morbid display that can be replayed on the evening news. And in some cases, the offending party gets a pass because he has his name on the all-star ballot instead of being a guy that makes the league minimum and plays four minutes a night.

That's injustice, not justice.

We are creeping forever closer to an "Eye for an Eye" league, where the extent of the injury, and its aftermath in the media, trump the reality of the incident. The punishment should fit the crime, not the aftermath of the crime. If we suspend this guy for a slightly late clean hit that was delivered without malicious intent, how do we not automatically give three games to any player who receives a five-minute boarding major? Or a five-minute high-sticking major? That's the only standardized set of criminal justice degrees we've established, yet how often do they lead to a suspension if the victim isn't carted off the ice? Or if the hockey media doesn't declare the offending player is the latest poster-child in its crusade to "clean up" a game that's like a shower stall at a Motel 6: It was born dirty, and will forever stay that way no matter how you scrub it?

The names change. Their salaries change. Their positions in the NHL's caste system change. But a hit from behind, a major-penalty high-stick and a late hit — if it can ever truly be defined — remain static in their execution if not their intent.

Perhaps then intent, instead of the injury, should be the only arbitrary factor that influences these decisions. Otherwise, we have dangerous plays that go unpunished because an opponent doesn't wake up in a hospital bed; star players that dodge suspensions that "character players" cannot; and a political farce of an inequitable justice system that doesn’t make a damn bit of difference in changing the NHL's supposed "headhunting" culture.

What do you think, sir?

NHL DISCIPLINE GUY: ...zzzzzzzzzzzz... Oh, I'm sorry. I zoned out.

Listen, I gotta run. Sean Avery just sneezed on Sidney Crosby. Sounds like an automatic five-gamer to me if they show it on SportsCentre!

Greg Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is a columnist for, 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 History" is now on sale.



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