John Moore of the New York Rangers was suspended five games by the NHL on Wednesday for his second illegal hit to the head in the span of 12 games, which doesn’t just make him a repeat offender but a borderline serial one.
Why five games? It’s sorta the going rate for illegal hits to the head that result in injuries. Ryan White on Kent Huskins in April 2013. Deryk Engelland, also a repeat offender, got five for a hit on Justin Abdelkader in Dec. 2013. Zac Rinaldo and Mike Rupp both got four-gamers for hits last April.
But Larry Brooks of the NY Post has another theory: The NHL went five because six would have earned an appeal from the NHLPA. From the Post:
Given Moore’s history, the five-game sentence is probably light by a few games. But a sentence of six games or more would qualify for an appeal to an independent arbiter. And a reduction of the suspension — which would surely be possible, if not likely, given precedent — would not exactly prove a ringing endorsement of Quintal in his first ruling after being named this summer as Brendan Shanahan’s successor as VP of the Department of Player Safety.
Here’s the thing: Brooks isn’t right, but he’s not necessarily wrong, given the optics of the NHL’s supplemental discipline decisions.
The only suspensions reduced by Gary Bettman have been ones that mandated a minimum ban due to the circumstances of the incident (players leaving the bench for a fight; Dan Carcillo’s contact with an official) or because the initial ban was completely draconian (the open-ended Raffi Torres suspension).
Otherwise, we’ve seen Pat Kaleta drop his appeal and Bettman uphold the 15-game ban for Shawn Thornton. In Thornton’s case, he probably had a legitimate chance to get the suspension reduced from an independent arbitrator, but instead chose not to pursue it.
Was a Moore appeal “likely” to overturn a lengthier suspension had it gone to the arbitrator? There’s zero reason to believe that’s the case. First, because a suspension between 6-10 games has precedents for repeat offenders (like Kaleta and Torres, and as Brooks notes, Moore has played himself into that pantheon).
But more importantly because the NHLPA and its suspended defendants have shown a lack of desire to push things that far. Why? Who knows, but the fact remains that the NHLPA is essentially defending one member who injured another, and that probably leads to some uncomfortable conversations between the players on the edge and the players who are usually targeted. Which could be why we haven’t seen these cases go above Bettman yet.
But in Brooks’ defense, the NHL hasn’t exactly convinced anyone that the potential for appeal over a six-or-more game suspension hasn't placed a cap on punishments.
Since the new CBA was signed and the appeal process was implemented, we’ve seen just six suspensions for illegal hits that were over six games:
Raffi Torres (six games, May 2013); Pat Kaleta (10 games, Oct. 10); Shawn Thornton 15 games, Dec. 2013); Zack Kassian (eight games, Sept. 2013); John Scott (seven games, Oct. 2013); Matt Cooke (7 games, April 2014).
That’s a whole lotta slam-dunk cases there with repeat offenders. But notice the dates on two of them: In the playoffs, where the weeks-long appeals process probably doesn’t get that player back on the ice before his team’s season is over.
Meanwhile, how many suspensions came in at four or five games in the last two seasons? Fourteen.
So I don’t think the threat of appeal capped the Moore penalty at five games, because I believe the Department of Player Safety would welcome that appeal.
But I also find it curious that so many, many of their suspensions seem to fall just short of that mechanism, you know?