LOS ANGELES — As reported by numerous media outlets, and by yours truly on Twitter, the National Hockey League has suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty one game for an illegal check to the head of Vegas Golden Knights left wing William Carrier at 9:58 of the third period of Game 1 of their first round playoff series on April 11, at T-Mobile Arena.
As one might expect, opinions on what transpired on the play vary wildly, from claims that Doughty made no contact with Carrier’s head whatsoever, to those saying that Doughty was headhunting, and everything in between.
After watching the video replay of the incident several times, it is clear that Doughty first struck Carrier’s left shoulder, but that was a glancing blow. Carrier’s head was indeed the principal point of contact. Not only that, but Carrier did not change the angle of his body or head significantly prior to the hit. Combining those two factors, NHL Player Safety got their analysis of the incident right. This was clearly an illegal hit by Doughty.
But was the league’s decision to suspend Doughty the right one?
Given that NHL Player Safety made it a point to note that Doughty had “no relevant history,” in terms of incidents resulting in supplementary discipline, a suspension seems rather harsh.
But isn’t that the kind of decision that we’ve come to expect from NHL Player Safety? After all, they’re so wildly unpredictable and inconsistent that one could easily see them using a Magic 8-Ball to make their decisions.
Before you think that this is just some Kings writer moaning and groaning over a decision that goes against “his” team, yours truly has been highly critical of the NHL and how it dishes out supplementary discipline, for many years. In fact, I’ve been critical of the league on this issue for decades. My first column expressing such criticism goes back to May 2007, when I ended my column with, “…that’s discipline in the NHL…a total joke.”
Nearly eleven years have passed since I wrote that column. Admittedly, things have improved in that the league doesn’t look the other way on most incidents these days. Indeed, back in those days, many perpetrators got off scot-free. That doesn’t happen anywhere near as often.
But what hasn’t changed at all is the discipline that is handed down, and it is probably worse now. Indeed, the decisions reached today usually incite more anger, confusion, and misinformation now than they did eleven years ago.
To be sure, a big reason for that is social media. Fans and pundits alike can view incidents just minutes after they happen and share their thoughts widely and immediately, whether they have all the facts or not. That certainly adds to the anger, confusion, and misinformation I mentioned earlier.
Nevertheless, rulings on suspensions and their lengths often seem wildly haphazard. There often seems to be no rhyme or reason when NHL Player Safety arrives at their decisions, especially when one incident results in, for example, a three-game suspension and then, an almost identical incident results in a one-game suspension or just a fine.
A major reason this situation has been allowed to fester like an open wound is because there are no standards for supplementary discipline decisions.
Until players know that they’re going to be suspended for a minimum of five games, for example, for an illegal check to the head, or a minimum of three games, again, for example, for checking from behind, consistency in supplementary discipline decisions will not be achievable.
The problem is, setting standard disciplinary actions for any incident will not be possible as long as the NHL continues to base such decisions on whether or not an injury resulted from the incident in question, and its severity.
Of course, if an injury results from such a play, that’s never going to be a good thing, especially if a player suffers a serious injury. However, the results of an incident should not be part of the equation. Instead, the degree of carelessness and the potential danger of the play in question should be the only factors considered for supplementary discipline, and the length of suspensions should not be just a few games, either.
In this way, players, coaches, pundits, and fans will know what will happen if such incidents occur. Combined with longer suspensions, it would serve as a deterrent for the players—they will know what the consequences of their actions would be, and with a more effective deterrent in place, there would be fewer incidents and fewer injuries resulting from such incidents.
To be sure, this isn’t a perfect solution, as it could take some of the physicality out of the game. That said, after an adjustment period, the physical play would likely return. The players would adjust, and the game would be safer and better for everyone.
In any case, it’s better than the slot machine, dartboard, flip-a-coin system the league is using now for supplementary discipline.
After all that, the time for such a change came years and years ago, and the NHL has never had the stomach to make real change in this area.
In other words, don’t hold your breath for a fix coming anytime soon. Supplementary discipline in the NHL will continue to be a total joke and there is no end in sight.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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