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I write the following with the full acknowledgement that things can change in an instant, but here goes:
The NHL’s Department of Safety Twitter feed has been straight up boring this season.
Since September, DoPS has announced that Stephane Quintal was named to replace outgoing sheriff Brendan Shanahan; explained why Radko Gudas wasn’t suspended for hitting Scottie Upshall; and confirmed that a member of the Philadelphia Flyers payroll will join the NHL in an official capacity.
But here’s the thing: If you don’t hand out any fines or suspensions, you can’t tweet about any fines or suspensions, which brings us to this salient point:
The NHL hasn’t announced a suspension or fine for an on-ice incident this preseason or regular season through Oct. 26.
Or to put it another way: More beat writers have been suspended than NHL players so far this season. (Slava Voynov being the exception.)
To put this in context, here’s a look back at the last few seasons and the supplemental discipline doled out in the preseason and the first month of the regular season. For 2012-13, which began on Jan. 19, we used the first 23 days of the regular season, which is around the length of the first month of play.
PRESEASON SUSPENIONS (on-ice)
FIRST MONTH SUSPENSIONS (on-ice)
PRESEASON/FIRST MONTH FINES (Non-Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
Shanahan took over the Department of Player Safety in June 2011.
This isn’t to say that DoPS hasn’t been active. Gudas was warned, although he wasn’t given any formal punishment, for the hit on Upshall. One assumes others have been as well.
But we’ve yet to see a suspension or fine for an on-ice incident that didn’t involve some level of unsportsmanlike conduct (like Milan Lucic having a stroke in the penalty box).
A couple of theories:
1. It’s a total anomaly. And by the time you read this, we’ll have six phone hearings on the docket.
2. The New Regime is a little more lenient. In Shanahan’s two full seasons at the helm, the preseason featured 16 suspensions. I always saw that as an attempt to set an example for the regular season, especially in the amount of games they totaled (we saw 10- and 12-game suspensions in the 2011 preseason).
Quintal obviously didn’t follow that trend, although perhaps that’s due to a lack of material. (We didn’t exactly have a glut of “guess the suspension” posts on the last two months on Puck Daddy.) But on the few questionable hits – some of them didn’t throw the book for book’s throwing sake.
3. The Department of Player Safety has actually worked.
Again, this is something that could look completely immaterial and farcical if a bunch of players start braining each other in the next few weeks, but is it possible that players have learned something about the hits they should or shouldn’t take?
Shanahan’s goal was always two-fold: Punish the repeat offenders harshly, and educate players on how not to perpetually injure their opponents.
To that first point, some of the league’s suspension magnets from previous seasons are out of the NHL or marginalized on teams. And on the second … well, maybe some of them have finally figured out not to head-hunt or run someone in the numbers,
Hey, look, we all know how it works: The next stretcher that’s wheeled out on the ice, Quintal will probably drop the hammer.
But through the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season ... well, the NHL certainly has a problem, what with only one Lady Byng Trophy to give out next June...