Welcome to the third and final part of this series.. In part one, I pointed out what I consider to be some of the biggest issues with the NHL's current supplemental discipline system. In part two, I illustrated the framework for how I'd like to see supplemental discipline handled. In this segment, I'll outline some of the behind the scenes, fine print-type tweaks to the CBA that I'd like to see implemented in place of the current system. Is my suggested system perfect? No. Will any of it be implemented? Ha! Not likely. But 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 it stands currently, NHL teams rarely feel the consequences of a player being suspended. Sure that player misses a few games, but outside of a handful or two cases per year where top players get suspended, teams can usually call up an adequate replacement from their AHL affiliate and carry on with business as usual. For every suspension given to a guy like Duncan Keith or James Neal - losses that truly hurt the team - there are two or three suspensions given to an easily replaceable player like Arron Asham, Matt Carkner or Byron Bitz. When players like this get suspended, teams can carry on without missing a beat. More often than not, the team barely feels any consequences from a suspension. I intend to change this and after the jump I'll explain how.
The first big change I'd like to make deals with how repeat offenders are treated. What's wrong with how repeat offenders are treated, you ask? Well, remember when Shea Weber slammed Henrik Zetterberg's head against the glass and just received a fine? "At least he's in the system now", we were told by the talking heads on TV. "He'll be a repeat offender next time", they said. Yeah...no. That's just not how it works. From Exhibit 8 of the CBA, "Procedures Relating to Commissioner Discipline":
"After reviewing the referee and supervisor report and game tape, the League may impose a fine for inappropriate conduct which falls short of warranting a suspension. Such a fine will not exceed Two Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($2,500). The Commissioner or his designee must provide notice of the fine and an explanation to the fined Player by telephone within seventy-two (72) hours of the game in which the incident took place. The NHLPA is not required to participate in this call, but must receive a written explanation of the fine and copies of the referee or supervisor reports within twenty-four (24) hours of the telephone call to the Player. A recipient of such a fine will not be treated as a "repeat" offender for disciplinary suspension purposes. However, such a disciplinary fine will carry consequences for the balance of that season. Any further discipline imposed in that season will take into account the offense for which the Player has been fined."
So despite what the talking heads on TV might say, instead of being a repeat offender from now on, Shea Weber's record is actually clean as a whistle. His fine only carried "consequences" (the CBA is vague about what this actually means) for the rest of Weber's season, which ended up only lasting eight more games. Who knows what those "consequences" meant though, because they certainly didn't affect Weber the second time around with Zetterberg. If you're wondering what I mean by "the second time around", show of hands, who realized that this was actually Shea Weber's second fine of 2011-2012? Anyone? Yeah, me neither, at least not for a couple of weeks. In case you're wondering, the first one was for tthis boarding penalty on Jannik Hansen back in October.
But wait, it gets better! What if I told you that Matt Cooke - who has been suspended six times in his NHL career - could receive a suspension next season and he'd be treated as a first time offender under the current rules? Considering he's one of the most repeated of repeat offenders we've seen in recent memory, that sounds absurd, doesn't it? Well...
CBA Section 18.3, paragraph c:
"Status as a "first" or "repeat" offender shall be re-determined every eighteen (18) months, on a rolling basis, i.e. where a Player does not have another suspension for eighteen (18) months, his next suspension will be treated as a first offense."
You see, Matt Cooke's last suspension was handed out on March 21, 2011, meaning that if Cooke can manage to behave himself for just the next few months of the off-season, he will start next year being treated as a first time offender. Doesn't that seem crazy? Don't get me wrong; I don't want to pick on Matt Cooke, he's just an easy example to use. I actually believe that he's trying to reform himself and I loved to see that he played a much cleaner game this season. Still though, Matt Cooke, or any prior offender for that matter, shouldn't get a clean slate just for behaving himself for what essentially amounts to one season.
So what do I suggest instead? First off, I'd like to see fines count in a player's supplemental history. Next, rather than using a period of time players need to stay out of trouble for in order to get a pardon and clean slate, I'd replace that system by requiring players to stay out of trouble for a certain number of games. And I'd up the number of games. The inspiration for this rule comes from Dan Carcillo, who has received supplemental discipline at least 10 times and received no fewer than seven suspensions (and possibly more, honestly I stopped counting). Under the current system Carcillo would just need to stay out of trouble for 18 months. The thing is, that shouldn't be too hard to do considering Carcillo tore his ACL (ironically, while attempting to injure Tom Gilbert), already missed 60 games, and might not be ready for the start of next season.
Because of Carcillo's situation and similar ones - other injured players or players who leave the NHL to play elsewhere - I'd tie pardons to games played. In addition, I'd tie the number of games required to receive a clean slate to the severity of offenses outlined in part two so that more egregious offenders need to stay clean for longer in order to get a clean slate. Now let's move on to my other big change.
As I mentioned in part one, my general philosophy is that the most effective ways to get players (and coaches and teams) to change their ways are to punish the teams and to punish the individuals' wallets. Unfortunately, the CBA doesn't permit fines in excess of $2,500 and a $2,500 fine simply is not an effective deterrent (and everyone knows it). It sucks, but it will be forgotten in a matter of days. Warnings (or in other words, nothing) are similarly ineffective. With that in mind, warnings and fines will no longer be a major part of my supplemental discipline system. How, then, do I intend to punish players' teams and their wallets?
First, the current rules on how a suspended player's salary is treated, as per 50.10 of the CBA, paragraph c:
"For Players that are suspended, either by a Club or by the League, the Player Salary and Bonuses that are not paid to such Players shall not count against a Club's Upper Limit or against the Player's Share for the duration of the suspension, but the Club must have the Payroll Room for such Player's Player Salary and Bonuses in order for such Player to be able to return to Play for the Club."
In addition, a suspended player's lost salary is currently calculated as follows for first time offenders:
Lost $ = Salary x [# of games missed due to suspension / # of days in regular season]
For repeat offenders, the formula is:
Lost $$$ = Salary x [# of games missed due to suspension / 82 games in regular season]
So, getting to my changes, my system will treat a suspended player's salary differently in order to make sure that teams feel the effects of a suspension. First, my system will use the second calculation exclusively, regardless of a player's suspension history. Second, under my system, a suspended player's salary will count towards the cap for the duration of the suspension. I believe that this accomplishes a few things:
- Creates a stronger financial-based punishment for all players that cross the line, first time offenders and repeat offenders alike.
- Creates a team-based disincentive for all players, as they will now be hurting their teams' cap situations and putting their teams at a competitive disadvantage.
- Creates a cap-based disincentive for teams, as teams that employ dangerous offenders will now feel the effects of having players suspended.
Let's take Duncan Keith's March suspension as an example. While Keith's salary came off the cap under the current rules, under these rule changes Keith's salary would continue to count against the Chicago Blackhawks' salary cap for the duration. Using Keith's $8M salary this season, the difference in cap space would be 5 / 82 x $8,000,000 = $487,804. Arron Asham's recent suspenion would have resulted in a difference in cap space of 4 / 82 x $775,000 = $37,805 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. James Neal's one game suspension would have resulted in a difference of $42,683 in cap space. For teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins that typically spend to the salary cap, those amounts could really add up.
If and/or when a suspension causes teams to lack the cap space required to make a roster move, they'll really feel the consequences of employing players that go over the edge. Similarly, if $100,000 in cap space lost due to suspension becomes the difference between adding a player at the trade deadline or standing pat, teams will definitely begin to assess the overall risk and value of employing a player who can potentially endanger a team's salary cap situation. Players who penalize their teams in this manner will likely face very strong pressure to change their ways and those who continually play out of control could even end up losing their jobs.
I have a few other ideas (for example, I've been toying with the idea of losing a roster spot for part of the time a player is suspended) but I think they're a bit too extreme so this is it for now. As always, let me know what you think in the comments.