I can’t say that the end of the Buffalo Sabres season has been that painful. To be completely honest, I’m not really looking forward to next season. However, in the mean time, I’ve been enjoying some extremely entertaining hockey in the first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs.
Unfortunately, things are getting out of control.
It seems like every playoff season, we’re in this position. The NHL seems to not want to do anything to get it’s players under control, let blatant infractions go, and let playoff series adopt the policy of “There are no rules!” Finally, the NHL address some minor issues, normally the wrong ones, and the world keeps turning.
This isn’t going to be a sit back and complain type of blog. I have a simple solution that would be able to address hits to the head, and other issues faced in the NHL regarding discipline.
We all know things get a little more physical in the playoffs. That doesn’t mean anything goes. The problem is, there’s no guidelines for the players to follow, and no one can honestly say that we know what a suspendable act is. Shanahan also continually looks at the wrong factors in making these decisions, and ignores the bigger issues in the NHL.
So, how do we fix this? A message needs to be sent to the players. If a player can crush their opponent, and it’s a 50/50 chance that they get suspended, odds are they’ll take those odds.
The problem with that, is the rules need to be clear and outline what constitutes a suspension in the NHL.
So, what does constitute a suspension in the NHL?
No one knows.
So, fix that problem.
First and foremost, update the rules. If the NHL wants to eliminate hits to the head (which they want to do) send a very clear message to the players. First hit to the head that is delivered, 3-4 games. Next hit to the head after that? somewhere between 5-10 games (and a meeting with Shanahan). 3rd time? 1/4 of the season is missed. Next? 1/2 season, you get the idea.
Then, define what a hit to the head is. It is fairly easy to avoid hitting someone in the head in hockey. It’s pretty obvious when a player does this. Any hit to the head, of any kind, by any player (and I can’t emphasize this enough) is a suspension. If this is to work, it has to be uniform across the league. If the definition is clear, and the consequences are clear, then the game will start to change, and while a player will occasionally get hit, it will be far and fewer between.
Next, let’s look at other suspendable acts. For example, checking a player when they’re in a vulnerable position, or plays where a player clearly is trying to hurt their opponent. The same principle, define this in the league rules, and make the consequences clear. It’s the same for every player in the NHL. If Patrick Kaleta, or Chris Neil check someone to the head, or hit someone while they’re in a vulnerable position, they get __ amount of games suspended (based on history as well). If Sidney Crosby does it, he gets the same amount of games. No preferential treatment, not picking and choosing when the rules apply, it has to be universal.
This now brings me to the 2 I’s that I mentioned in the title of my blog. The first one, let’s talk about Intent. I think it’s ridiculous that Shanahan, when issuing his Shana-ban’s, takes into consideration whether a player actually intended to hurt the player they hit. Of course they’re going to say “Oh no Mr. Shanahan. I didn’t want to hurt him. I tried to stop/pull up.” Please. They’re not going to be honest about that. However when watching film, you can tell who really intends to do harm to their opponents, and who doesn’t. For example, Kunitz spearing Grabner on Sunday in the Penguins vs Isles game? You can’t tell me that that wasn’t intentional. Especially the intended target area.
Personally, I don’t think the players should even have an interview about their hits. I think that the NHL should just look at the hit, contact the player, tell them that they’re suspended and for what, and leave it at that. They don’t need a chance to explain themselves. The evidence is there for what happened. Don’t let them try to talk their way out of it.
When it comes to intent, don’t ask the players. Determine it by yourself. You can tell some players try to avoid those hits. Others, it’s obvious that the intent is to harm.
The 2nd I is Injury. For the longest time, I’ve gotten the feeling that suspensions are handed out based on whether someone is injured or not. This is completely asinine. I could plaster Phil Kessel into the boards (sorry, watching the Bruins vs Leafs game), and hit him from behind into the boards head first. Most of us would argue that this is a suspendable hit. It doesn’t matter if he’s hurt or not. I shouldn’t have done it, and the suspension needs to be made. Injuries happen all the time. It doesn’t matter how severe someone is hurt on a play, or whether they are hurt at all. Remove this from the equation.
The league needs to get control of this situation. In order to do so, the players need to have clear guidelines, so they know what will happen to them when they have these infractions. The NHL also needs to establish a track record of everyone gets punished. In most situations, one could flip a coin to determine whether a player is suspended. Most guys in the NHL will take those odds. The league needs to make this consistent, and no longer a confusing topic.
Personally, I think the league needs to adopt this policy when it comes to discipline:
Either the rules apply to everyone, or they apply to no one.
As long as there is a blurred line between suspensions and nothing, the players will test the boundaries. The minute the league clears up what constitutes a suspension and then strictly enforces it, the message is sent, and we will no longer have to discuss these situations.
It cannot matter who does what in the league. Look at the act in and of itself and address it. It doesn’t matter who is involved, who was hit, or who they play for. What matters is what happened, be it a charging penalty, checking from behind, or a hit to the head.
Look at the act, and then identify the punishment based on the player who delivered it (1st time offender, 3rd time offender). Then, make sure it’s enforced.
Problem solved. Message sent.
Follow me on Twitter- @SabresBTB I’ll be tweeting on Sabres off season moves. I will also be starting my off season player analysis of the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Amerks starting later this week. I’ll be going through the 2 rosters, and looking at their future with the team, and pros and cons to their play.
As always, thanks for reading!