The NHL has a discipline system in place, but what they really need is a justice system. With more and more life-threatening and career-ending injuries, the NHL has to move beyond its one man system of self-regulated policing and put a committee in its place. It will be costly, controversial and complicated, but then again, so is justice.
The NHL justice committee should be mandated to look at cases in the same way as the legislative system, comparing mitigating and aggravating factors, as they do with assault cases. They should consider intent to injure, impact on the player, technical legalities, priors, and context. Suspensions and fines should be determined on a case-by-case basis, but the baseline should remain the same. Whether they want to use 1, 2, 4 or 25 game suspensions, they should have a consistent standard certain plays.
Zero tolerance for head hits resulting in automatic game misconducts and expulsion from the game with possible supplemental discipline after review. With all the talk around concussions and the science looking into its long term detrimental effects, zero tolerance for head hits should be a given, even if that contact may be incidental. The message will be clear to keep heads up and body checks clean. This should help eliminate the elbow to the head incidents, the deliberate charge and tackle (Cooke-Savard incident, Weber’s turnbuckle) and let teams know that they are responsible for the actions of all their players.
Charging, kicking, fighting and the other extracurriculars will be harder to determine, but that is why you use a committee. The current system of having one man responsible for discipline who is only accountable to one man who is actually his boss in Bettman has not worked and is not going to work. Owners may cry foul if the league attempts to use an independent commission who may pose a threat to their bottom line. But the league should acknowledge that the health of their players and the public’s perception of the quality of their treatment of players is going to ultimately affect their bottom line as well.
The committee does not need to be 100% independent to be effective. There just simply needs to be enough representation from the affected sides to satisfy the need for fairness. If they use former GMs, coaches, refs and players who have the veteran knowledge but no vested interest and no current active careers in the NHL, they should be able to have balance and experience. Another very important member of that committee? A doctor or medical professional who can speak to the impact of hits and injuries.
This idea will not be popular for many reasons, too many to cite here. It will have pitfalls, grey areas and failures. Every justice system in the world has failures. But it sure looks better than what the NHL currently has. And it has the chance to gain something the NHL has already lost: fan confidence.
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.