October 12, 2010
In the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," we learn that the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board has a double standard when it comes to violence in film vs. profanity or sexuality: Gore, guns and guts can get a PG-13 while dirty words and sexually explicit images are the fast-track to an R rating.
The standard apparently applies to the NHL as well. James Wisniewski(notes) of the New York Islanders has received a two-game suspension for a graphic sexual gesture he made towards the New York Rangers' Sean Avery(notes) in a game played Monday afternoon on Long Island. Via the Islanders, a Wis statement:
"A lot of actions on the ice are regrettable," Wisniewski said. "I’ve been given a suspension from the league and I’m going to accept it and move on from here."
Darn, no "I'm going to get a grip and just do my job ..."
The NHL invites this sort of comparison by taking these instances of bad taste and misbehavior and allowing them to impact the game itself through supplemental discipline.
Had Wisniewski or Boynton or any other player taunting an opponent in an inappropriate (by NHL standards) manner been fined to the heavens there wouldn't be a lingering debate among fans about whether the punishment was too harsh. We read about fines, we know player salaries and we assume the level of financial penalty is one in which the message would be received by the individual.
But a suspension for this impacts the New York Islanders, who are already down one Mark Streit(notes) this season on defense. Sure, it's two games out of 80; ones against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. But it's not a manpower loss for injurious behavior or physical malice or bloodshed; it's a suspension for taunting, for having that taunting picked up by a camera and for the utter fear of the "Mommy/Daddy what does that mean?" moment for parents. It's not a safety issue; it's an image issue, and seeing a player suspended for that is frustrating.
This isn't to say that Wisniewski shouldn't be punished, because the NHL tries to run a gentlemanly league in between the fights and violent hitting of fellow men with large sticks. But a fine would have been fine. A two-game suspension? Wisniewski's pantomime in front of Avery pretty much represents our feelings on that decision by Colin Campbell.
(UPDATE: Chris Block from The Third Man In makes the point that Wisniewski's max fine would have been $2,500 under the CBA. The NHL reports that the two-game suspension costs him $79,268.30. So it's a CBA issue; but the loss of man games for the Islanders is still a farce.)