Sports fans love to debate, but the general consensus is that most of us hockey fans are feeling pretty confused/angry/frustrated/befuddled by the NHL’s current disciplinary system. Not that it was ever clear cut or satisfying. After years of inconsistency and lack of transparency under the old regime of Campbell, the NHL promised better things with Brendan Shanahan. He was, after all, a former player, a good representative of players and owners, and someone known to fans. His nomination was supposed to inspire confidence and for a brief while, the branding worked. Sheriff Shanahan delivered with fines and suspensions, as well as in the transparency department, offering up video explanations for his decision-making. It looked like the NHL was on the right track.
Then the concussion totals began to mount, and people were mystified that fines and suspensions weren’t the kind of deterrents that they hoped. Much in the way that jail time is often not a deterrent for repeat offenses, neither had the new regime imposed a healthy fear of repercussions. Injuries, head shots and general rough stuff continued and came rearing back with its ugly head in the post-season.
All over the media, they’re saying that this is one of the most violent post-seasons ever in the NHL. They may be right. Penalties have been amassing and highlight reels look more like WWE than NHL, with Shea Weber’s turnbuckle move making him go from famous to infamous. This deliberate head hit was when the NHL should have stepped up to the plate and put a stop to the violence with a harsh sentence. A suspension would have been the best option, depriving Nashville of their Captain for a game or two, at a point where games are critical. It would have sent the right message: 1) that this kind of behavior is not acceptable on the ice and 2) it doesn’t matter if you’re an all-star player, you will be held accountable for your actions.
Instead, the NHL resorted to its old ways, delivering a confused statement and a $2500 fine. They used the example of Weber’s otherwise clean record and Zetterberg’s health to determine the punishment, rather than the intent, the severe implications of an attempt to deliberately injure by targeting the head of a player in a vulnerable position or the impact it would have on the game and its image. Whether or not players saw this as an opening of the floodgates or the declaration of Martial Law for themselves is up for debate, but there is no doubt that the NHL hurt itself and its credibility and this had an impact on players decisions come game time.
The maximum fine for hurting a player is $2500. The league also fines teams for inflammatory remarks to the tune of up to $10,000. This can range from everything from bad name-calling at inopportune times, such as a player being interviewed prior to the game, or bad name-calling at a press conference which targets a specific person or team or the league. If understood correctly, this means that the NHL values the physical health of a player at about $2500, while it puts their collective feelings up to about $10,000, almost four times the value. That’s a lot of money for feelings.
Ostensibly, this means that putting a player into a coma where they may never walk again is a $2500 fine, but bad name calling towards a team or a player (maybe one that rhymes with Wosby) is a $10,000 fine. Perhaps this is the start of a new and dangerous phenomenon in the league: the emotional coma. It may be a serious, crippling condition that may make it impossible to advance to next round.
In a profession where hits are just another day at the office, it’s hard to believe that feelings, rather than heads, are better protected.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.