Is It Time to Change the NHL’s Suspension Policy?


Photo via Amy Irvin

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of the Flyers, Canucks, or the Penguins. If you watch hockey on a regular basis, you’ve seen the inconsistency that comes from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Run by former player and Hall-of-Famer Brendan Shanahan, veteran of over 1,500 games played and well aware of the violence hockey contains, and formerly Colin Campbell, the department has allowed players like the Flyers’ own Zac Rinaldo, the Sabres’ Patrick Kaleta, Steve Ott and John Scott to run amuck with little fear of consequence.

Kaleta has had enough phone calls and meetings with Player Safety to have their number listed as 1 on his speed dial, being suspended or fined a shocking six times in four years alone. It took until his last suspension, a ten-gamer for an illegal check to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets’ defenseman Jack Johnson for the Sabres to re-think their position on employing this career-goon, and upon completion of his suspension, was immediately sent down to their AHL affiliate-Rochester Americans, where he then tore his ACL, ending his season and making the game of hockey a little safer for everyone.

Kaleta has made a living throwing illegal check after illegal check, getting suspended or fined time and time again, yet coming back from each sentence showing he wasn’t going to change as a player. Why? Because the Department of Player Safety lacks the guts to suspend a repeat player more than just a few games than the previous time. Four games, five games. It took until his headshot on Johnson to finally be suspended for a double-digit length of games.

Since Shanahan took over as head NHL Disciplinarian in 2011, only four suspensions were for 10 games or more – Kaleta’s ten-gamer this year, Raffi Torres’ 25-game suspension in the 2012 playoffs for a vicious headshot to Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Marian Hossa (eventually cut to 21-games by commissioner Gary Bettman), and two automatic ten-game suspensions to Eric Godard and Paul Bissonnette for leaving the bench to start an altercation (Bissonnette’s sentence was eventually reduced to three games).

Rinaldo should have been facing a lengthy suspension for the stunt he pulled Saturday afternoon in Dallas, where four seconds into his first shift of the game, 1:15 into the first period, attacked Stars foward Antoine Roussel with at least two punches to the face. Official stats were 0:04 seconds TOI, 27 penalty minutes. However, the Department of Player Safety thought the game misconduct he received was enough of a penalty.

Many hockey fans also tuned in to Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night to see replays of three separate incidents in the Boston Bruins – Pittsburgh Penguins, involving James Neal and Brooks Orpik from the Pens, and Shawn Thornton from the Bruins. As a result of a borderline dirty hit from Orpik, Thornton took his own course of action in assaulting Orpik, resulting in what is sure to be a suspension of at least 15-games. James Neal, meanwhile, a star player who Flyers fans know as a dirty player from their playoff series in 2012 where in the same game, he tried to take out Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier with brutal headshots, is likely to receive three or four games as a result of a deliberate knee to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

There is a severe lack of respect between NHL players right now, and it needs to be stopped.

Many other players can be talked about here – Torres, Anton Volchenkov, James Neal, Arron Asham and Matt Cooke, just to name a few. You could make an argument that only two of these aforementioned players actually serve any purpose on an NHL roster. Which begs the question; if teams are going to continue to employ these players, should they, not just the player, pay the price as well?

Teams aren’t going to miss a Rinaldo, or a Kaleta all that much. They’re fringe-NHL-ers who hardly deserve a roster spot. More than likely, an AHL-er will be called up and will take his place, contributing not much more than the suspended player would have if he were still in the lineup. The games will pass, the player will come back, and now has a target on his back from the NHL, without much remorse in his game other than an obligatory “sorry-statement” after the game is over.

However, if the team lost the player’s roster spot for the duration of the suspension, would the player learn? I believe it’s time to make the team play one man down for every game during the player’s suspension.

Would the team think again about bringing the player back when the suspension is done? I think this is a way to severely cut down on the amount of dirty hits that take place in today’s NHL, because with the way the League is headed now, it’s only a matter of time before someone dies on the ice, and by then it will be too late.

Every fan knows how much their team suffers when losing a player, whether due to injury or misconduct. The Flyers saw that in Dallas when they lost Rinaldo just over a minute in, and defenseman Kimmo Timonen later in the game. This could be a way to enforce the rules of the NHL without having to dull the game down or eliminate fighting. The enforcer isn’t needed anymore in today’s fast-paced, offense-driven NHL. Some of the best teams, such as Chicago and Detroit, don’t have a legitimate enforcer on their team, although you could argue that Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi is an enforcer based off his past actions. If the League took this course of action in trying to clean up the game, we could see the role finally face its much-needed extinction from the game.

The game of hockey is a beautiful game, played by some of the hardest-working athletes in the world. Not for money, like some other sports, but for the love of the game, the honor, the integrity. But there’s no honor in some of the plays we’ve seen the past few years.

This idea should spark up some debate, so leave some comments with your thoughts on this topic.


  • Chris Johnson

    The Rinaldo call was a BS call…how do you as an official give 2-5-10 and a game? The 10 was the official tossing arrogance around! If you give him 5, that’s fine, the game was iffy, but 5 minutes was sufficient. When I first started officiating I was told NOT to hold grudges, or target a player from one game to the next, or a coach. Each game is new, and you let things go. Rinaldo has a target on his back and when he does one little thing wrong it gets hammered on. The NHL could change allowing the “star” players get away with diving (AKA CRYSBY), and Chara, hacking and cross-checking anything that moves near his crease!? Make the calls legit, even, and rules the same for all across the board. Shanahan hates the Flyers and until you get 3 people in there for discipline, it will be inconsistent. If you have an ex-ref, ex-player, ex-coach on a committee it has a better chance to be consistent and fair. How about if a player injures another on a suspendable offense, the offending player sits out until the injured player comes back, or “x” number of games maximum.