You’ll have to excuse my bias, but the thing I hate the most in hockey are goons.
I’ve played in the same hockey league for the past 5 years, and I probably have 3 penalties in those 5 seasons. That’s just the way I play the game. So, you can imagine my reaction when I see a player like Trevor Gillies get suspended for 9 games, and then the first game he comes back he gets tossed again.
The odd thing is that I don’t even blame Gillies. He plays 2-3 minutes per game and does what he feels will keep him in the league, which is playing on the edge and getting the occasional suspension because of it. In my opinion, he doesn’t belong in the NHL simply because he doesn’t have the skill to play. The problem is you can’t fault him for doing a job that is given to him.
That’s why my suggestion is to go after the guys that are giving these jobs – the owners and general managers. It’s clear suspending players isn’t effective, so its time to make it unappealing to give players like Trevor Gillies a roster spot in the first place. There are 2 ways that are sure to limit the number of “enforcers” in the NHL; the first being to penalize the team by not being able to replace a suspended player, and the second being to sanction both the owner and GM with salary cap ramifications.
The first part of my plan would be to put in a rule whereby suspended players would not allowed to be replaced in the lineup. NHL teams always dress 18 skaters, so if this rule was applied, the team would be penalized by only being able to dress 17 skaters until the suspended player returns. For example, when Trevor Gillies got suspended for 9 games, the Islanders would have been forced to play with 1 less player for the next 9 games. This would make GMs think twice about signing “goons” who are prone to getting suspended, and would force coaches to think twice about putting them in the lineup, in fear of being shorthanded in future games. To give credit where credit is due, twitter user @charlesbrosky inspired this idea. Thanks, Charlie.
The second part of my proposed fix would be to hit owners and general managers where it hurts – the salary cap. The general idea would be that a suspended player would have their salary count more against the cap while suspended. Back in February, Matt Cooke was suspended for 4 games by the NHL. In this scenario, Matt Cooke’s salary would count for, hypothetically, $3.6 million against the cap, rather than $1.8 million (double the cap hit) for the duration of his suspension. A rule like this would ensure that GMs and owners think long and hard about not only signing enforcers, but also limiting how much money they pay them as well.
There are times when suspensions happen as a result of the play. Alex Ovechkin’s hit on Brian Campbell one year ago was not malicious, but the end result was a broken collarbone for Campbell and Ovechkin was rightfully suspended. In that situation, the rules should not apply. There should be certain factors that trigger when these additional sanctions would be enforced. If the suspended player is a repeat offender, then the rules should automatically apply. If the suspended player is not a repeat offender, then only a “significant offense” (perhaps a minimum of 3 games) should result in these supplementary punishment. The NHL should try and make the game more safe, but at the same time, you don’t want to take physicality out of the game either.
Enforcers and goons have always been a part of the game, and they will continue to be. However, with player safety becoming more and more of a concern, the most effective way to make the game safer is to get rid of the players who are making hockey a dangerous sport. By punishing the organization by forcing them to play a man short when a player is suspended; and by sanctioning the General Manager and Owner by imposing salary cap penalties, this would discourage teams from signing players that have no business being in the game, and would discourage coaches from wanting to even put them in the lineup.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.