September 13, 2011
The NHL's supplemental discipline apparatus (great punk band name right there) got a makeover this year, with Colin Campbell stepping aside as suspension czar in favor of Brendan Shanahan(notes), who doesn't have a son playing for the reigning Stanley Cup champions and is remarkably more adept at email.
With new voices in the process come new questions about the process: Should suspensions run longer? Shorter? Are they preventive measures or are they politically-motivated panaceas for aggrieved parties?
Essentially, supplemental discipline is like any law enforcement function: Part punishment for the unlawful, part deterrent for future acts by the individual and others in society.
Question is, do they work as deterrents? When you see Trevor Gillies(notes) earn a suspension in his first game back from suspension, one can't help but wonder about their effectiveness. When you have repeat offenders, and repeat offenses, one wonders the same thing.
Which brings us to the salient point about supplemental discipline:
How do you get a player's attention?
The answer, frequently, is through his wallet. It was the answer 19 years ago, and it's the answer today.
But good lord, what a difference 19 years makes … because back in the day, Trevor Gillies wouldn't have missed any games.
Gil Stein replaced John Ziegler as president of the NHL in June 1992, and the changes to the League's front office were sweeping. Most notably, Stein himself oversaw supplemental discipline, taking away the whip from NHL VP Brian O'Neill's hand.
That led to what would be kindly called an "unorthodox" approach to justice in the NHL by Stein, as the Ottawa Citizen described:
He believes game suspensions are unfair to the fans who are deprived of seeing the players in action. Instead, he has decided to hit players in their wallets, an approach he thinks is a greater deterrence to violence.
As a result, seven times this season Stein has ruled players should be suspended without pay on consecutive non-game and non- travel days. In other words, for practices.
The new approach of non-game suspensions has divided those inside and outside the game, but Stein makes no apologies. "That conduct has to be deterred and my observation was the previous system didn't seem to be doing a good job deterring it," he said.
For example, Bernie Nicholls of the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Keene were both fined at the start of the 1992-93 season for "excessive stickwork". Nicholls was suspended seven days, Keane was suspended for four — days, not games.
They didn't miss any games.
The policy actually had some high-profile backers:
Among those lining up behind Stein are Vancouver GM and head coach Pat Quinn and Hartford GM Brian Burke. "I think the response to that loss of money is going to get their attention," said Quinn.
"If we're going to charge $100 a seat, people deserve to see the 20 best players," said Burke.
Oh, one wonders how Burkie feels about that now ...
Burke took over supplemental discipline when Stein was replaced by Gary Bettman in 1993. From Davie Shoalts at the Globe & Mail:
Under Stein, who resigned in disgrace from the NHL after it was found he had manipulated his election to the Hockey Hall of Fame, players were not suspended from games for on-ice infractions, but served their suspensions by sitting out practices.
This had the predictable effect of pleasing no one, since the critics pointed out a player didn't have to worry about missing any game for such things as hitting another player over the head with his stick. And the players hated the system because it also called for them to forgo their salary during the suspension. The only winners were the charities that received the money from player fines.
Fast forward 19 years, and the NHL has a policy in place that hurts a team by removing a player from its lineup and hurts the player by taking away his salary for those games.
According to the NHL, there are two formulas for lost salary during suspensions.
Repeat offenders within the NHL's supplemental discipline process lose salary based on the number of games in a season (82). Non-repeat offenders lose salary based on the number of days in the season (which is 185 this season).
For example, a two-game suspension for a non-repeat offender would cause him to forfeit 2/185ths of his salary while the same length suspension for a repeat offender would result in forfeiture of 2/82nds of his salary.
Meanwhile, a player is permitted to practice with his team.
Our contention has always been that it's the financial penalties, rather than the man-games lost, that'll end up getting the attention of players.
Not to continue using Gillies as the symbol of all things suspended, but do you remember the outcry over the money he was losing because of his bans? The New York Islanders nearly passed around a collection plate.
Did any of them actually say, "It's unfair because we don't have Trev's 5 minutes a night?" Of course not.
One of the reasons the supplemental discipline process is so out of whack in the NHL is due to the fact that massive suspensions are a necessity for massive fines. The CBA caps player fines at $2,500; the longer the suspension, the larger the financial penalty. Hence we get nonsense like James Wisniewski(notes) getting suspended for two games for feigning fellatio just to hit him with a $79,268.30 financial penalty.
If the NHL had its way, we'd probably have something in the spirit of the Gil Stein Doctrine: Hit them hard financially, and limit the suspensions to ones within reason. No need to go 15 games if you can hit someone with a significant fine.
The NHLPA, of course, has no interest in seeing Brendan Shanahan as hockey's answer to the Whammy from "Press Your Luck", hitting them with larger financial penalties than they'd have under the current process.
Which leads to annual conundrums like: "Why did Player X only get one game when James Wisniewski got two for a lewd gesture?"
Which makes for hockey-patterned baldness as we all pull our hair out.
Want to increase the good manners of NHL players. As they say in Washington, follow the money.