Welcome to part two of what will likely be a three part series, mostly so no one article drags on for an eternity. In part one, I pointed out some of the biggest issues with the NHL's current supplemental discipline system. In this segment, I'll outline the system I'd like to see implemented in place of the current system. Is my suggested system perfect? No. Will it be implemented? Ha, of course not. But I think I think it'll help with a lot of problems in the current system and it's a pretty good starting point. So let's get started, shall we?
As I mentioned in part one of this series, some of the biggest issues in the current supplemental discipline system are vagueness and a widespread lack of criteria and subjectivity. So first things first, to combat some of the subjectivity and any potential biases in the current supplemental discipline system, suspensions will no longer be determined by any one individual. The new system will use a panel of 3-5 individuals made up of independent arbitrators and former officials, players, coaches and managers. In order to minimize Campbell-esque biases, the one caveat is that each of these individuals must have never worked with or against anyone currently playing or coaching (or managing, if for some reason a manager needs to be suspended) in the NHL. As far as I can tell, Jaromir Jagr's debut in 1990 is the oldest debut of any current NHL player. Thus, in addition to independent arbitrators, any former official, player, or coach must have retired prior to Jagr's debut in order to be eligible for the panel. While this excludes recently retired individuals from the supplemental discipline committee, there are still hundreds - if not thousands - of individuals that fit the bill. Hell, some of them might even be looking for something to do and some of them could probably use the extra cash.
Moving on to perhaps the most important part of the new system, inconsistent suspension rulings and the vague (or lack of) suspension and sentencing criteria is likely the biggest source of trouble with the current system. Andrew Berkshire over at Habs Eyes on the Prize summarized it well:
The NHL avoids creating standards for suspensions like it's the plague, because they want to have ways to avoid suspending players. When Zdeno Chara broke Max Pacioretty's neck, the league was adamant that they couldn't prove intent, and that was all that mattered because accidents happen. When Weber slammed Zetterberg's head into the glass, intent didn't matter because there wasn't an injury. I look at this absurd sliding rule of what matters with regard to suspensions, and feel like I'm taking crazy pills.
My system will have clear criteria for what constitutes a suspendable infraction and will include pre-defined, set punishments corresponding to each infraction. How? It's pretty simple, actually. Each and every infraction we can possibly think of will be listed and separated into groups of varying severity. Each group will have a corresponding punishment. The number of groups and suspension lengths that follow are just an example and we can argue over details later, but this is just to give an example of the framework:
Level 1 = minor suspendable infractions = 3 games for the first offense
Level 1 is made up of relatively minor stuff as far as suspendable infractions go, including but not limited to, suspensions for: unsportsmanlike conduct reasons, inappropriate comments or gestures other than those focusing on race or sexual orientation, knee on knee collisions, running over goaltenders, roping minors, interference, kicking (below the waist), tantrums where equipment gets thrown onto the ice, etc.
Level 2 = medium severity infractions = 7 games for a first offense
Level 2 is made up of a bit more serious stuff, but we're not in McSorely-land either. boarding incidents, checks from behind of moderate force, suspendable stick incidents (slashing, cross-checking, spearing, butt ends, etc.) where contact is made to a body part other than the head/neck, slew foots, head butts, hits to the head, taking a swing at officials, and a whole host of other incidents.
Level 3 = severe infractions = 13 games for a first offense
Level 3 is getting into pretty serious offenses: stick incidents targeting the head/neck area, checks from behind with greater than moderate force, combo platters involving multiple offenses at once (i.e. Duncan Keith's elbow + head hit + interference or the Raffi Torres head hit + charging + borderline interference), racial slurs, gay slurs, and many of others.
Level 4 = the nuclear option = Oh I don't know...25 games for a first offense? 30?
This level is reserved for Bertuzzi/Ted Maki-level shit. We're talking pre-meditated attacks, pre-meditated stick incidents with contact to the head/neck, entering the stands and/or beating a fan with one's own shoe, taking off your skate and attempting to slice an opponent's throat, etc. We'll add an "and other incidents as the supplemental discipline panel sees fit" clause to cover all our bases just in case someone gets really creative and decides to light their own feces on fire and fling it into the crowd or something.
Suspensions could then be tied together in a matrix format. For example:
3 games = 1st Level 1 infraction
7 games = 1st Level 2 infraction OR 2nd Level 1 infraction
13 games = 1st Level 3 infraction OR 2nd Level 2 infraction OR 3rd Level 1 Infraction
And so on...
Now obviously I haven't included every single infraction in the above lists, and there may be some disagreements about where each infraction should be slotted. We can argue over infraction severity another time but the point is that every suspendable infraction we can possibly think of will be ranked from Level 1 (relatively minor stuff) to level 4 (attempted murder on ice). With a little effort, every offense or combination of offenses can be slotted into a level of severity. Then when an incident occurs, the rules and punishments are in place. If the incident in question is a comment, we no longer need to determine how bad a comment was; all that needs to be determined is if it was about race or sexual orientation. If yes, slot a guy into level 3. If no, level 1. Crystal clear. If the incident is a check to the head, was it just a check to the head? If yes, level 2. Or was it a Duncan Keith check to the head and an elbow and interference? Ah, level 3 it is then. So on and so forth.
When difficult situations or disagreements arise - for example, if someone gets really creative and commits an infraction we managed to overlook, or if a hit was definitely charging but only borderline interference and we must determine whether to punish it as just charging or as a combo platter - each member of the supplemental discipline panel will assign a point value to the play in question, with the point values corresponding to a level of severity. The average point value will then be used to slot the infraction into the appropriate tier. Each summer, the supplemental discipline committee and competition committee will review the tiers and they can make recommendations to slot any infraction into a different tier. If, for example checks to the head become particularly troublesome, the committee can recommend that checks to the head be treated as level 3 infractions instead of level 2. In addition, any "new" infractions must be reviewed each off-season.
With clearly defined rules, there's very little subjectivity and vagueness left. A system such as this one minimizes the guesswork, improves transparency and lets the league maintain the flexibility to differentiate between the severity of various offenses. In other words, the league maintains the ability to hand out a lighter suspension for "hockey plays" gone wrong (like a check that misses and becomes a knee-on-knee check) and can still really punish someone who took things too far. And when an incident occurs, everyone will know what to expect.
In the last segment of this series, I'm going to be making a few changes to the fine print of the CBA, especially regarding how repeat offenders are treated and how a suspended player's salary is dealt with. As always, your comments, questions, observations, etc. are more than welcome.