Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Appalling Lack Of Consistency Of The NHL's Discipline System

As I am sure you all know by now, Aaron Rome knocked out Nathan Horton in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, sending Horton to the hospital and Rome to the dressing room early. Horton's out for the series with a severe concussion. Rome is out for the series with a four-game suspension. On the surface, it may seem like a fair punishment and just desserts for Rome, who may have done permanent damage to Horton's playing career. But in Gary Bettman's NHL, unfortunately, this exposes a much deeper problem.

There is no doubt that Aaron Rome hit Nathan Horton way late. But what happens if the hit did not have that nasty result? Chances are Rome would just get a 2-minute interference penalty and it would never be spoken of again. While a counterfactual argument, it is at least worth a thought here. Remember the violent hit where Zdeno Chara sent Max Pacioretty into the stanchion? Remember how many games Chara got? Yep. Zero.

Bad hit. Awful result. Zero game suspension.

While people continue to talk and debate the Aaron Rome hit and suspension, I'd like to point you to another moment in Game 3 of last night's Stanley Cup Finals where you wonder just what the NHL is thinking. This moment has been very well forgotten by most, but it is worth another look.

In case you missed it, Raffi Torres attempted a flying elbow on Johnny Boychuck. Torres only scraped the shoulder of Boychuk, so the NHL did not think about penalizing that further, despite the fact it was given a 2-minute charging penalty during the game But take the two hits on the surface and ignore the results, which is more dangerous? A shoulder hit that is half-a-second too late or a flying elbow? Obviously, a flying elbow is more dangerous than a shoulder hit. In the NHL, shoulder hits are allowed, elbows of any sort are not. So the NHL is a league that punishes result and not intention, right? Well if that was so, then how can you explain Chara not getting a suspension for the NHL? Basically what the NHL is telling us is it is okay to attempt a flying elbow as long as you don't connect, it is not okay to deliver a late shoulder hit that sends someone to the hospital, but it is absolutely all right to run someone into the stanchion and send them to the hospital. That is the message I am getting from the NHL.

On the surface, you can argue whether or not you feel Rome should have gotten 4 games or 4 games, same with Chara, same with Torres. Believing that Rome should have gotten more and/or less is not absurd. But when there is this lack of consistency in discipline simply in this year, it more frequently results in the question of what is and what is not acceptable in the NHL than it does in the solution of getting rid of dirty, malicious, and dangerous plays. What is the NHL's intent here? Punish the result? Okay, then why did not Chara get suspended? Is the NHL's intent to punish the intent of the play? Okay, then why was Torres simply given 2 minutes for charging without so much as a hearing for further supplementary discipline?

The problem with the NHL's discipline is not bias towards any one team, nor is it leaning too strongly in any direction. It does not lean in any direction, that is the problem. There are so many inconsistencies over the past few years with the NHL's discipline that if I began to list them, your head would start spinning. The NHL needs to remedy this problem, as simply taking a spin on the Wheel Of Justice to determine supplementary discipline cannot suffice in a league that wants to be taken seriously.

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