(Editor’s note: Let us know what you think in the comments. Should there be different penalties for different players?)
Last night there was a questionable hit that is getting plenty of attention around the usual hockey circles. With about a second left in a 1-goal game, Drew Doughty cross-checked a vulnerable TJ Oshie into the boards—predictably leading various members of the Blues to defend their fallen teammates honor. That’s tradition these days; or at least the protocol. But we’re not here to talk about teams defending their teammates. We are here to talk about the hit, the possible punishment, and the skewed equality of justice that is inevitably levied on any given player.
First thing is first. My personal view of the hit (for perspective) is that it was dangerous and exactly the type of play that has been punished throughout the preseason and first two months of the season. Oshie was in a vulnerable position, Doughty delivered a dangerous (albeit, composed) check, and Oshie went flying into the boards. Even though there was only a single second left on the clock, Oshie left the game and headed straight to the locker room with an apparent upper-body injury (although Ken Hitchcock says Oshie is OK).
Check out the hit and a few opinions from the boys over at Versus:
Again, I tend to agree with the talking heads in this situation. But others don’t. There’s healthy discussion and debate—the point being that this is not a cut-and-dry suspension. There’s an ample amount of grey area here.
Here’s the thing: if Doughty is suspended for about three games, most people won’t raise an eyebrow. One game suspensions are uncommon and the questionable hit isn’t something that is going to get up into the 5-10 game range. Some people have compared the hit to the Chris Stewart’s hit on Nik Kronwall earlier this month that earned Stewart a 3-game suspension. It sounds reasonable, right?
Well, from Doughty’s point of view, the questionable hit that doesn’t meet a full consensus would cost him a little more than $219,000 (prorating his salary). Again, there is no unanimous public outcry and no appeal process if Shanahan comes down on the defenseman. He’ll be forced to sit out the two games, his prorated salary will go to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund, and the NHL world will go on its merry way.
Stop and think about that for a minute. $219,000 for a hit that we’re not even 100% sure should be a suspension. $219,000 for a hit that was issued a two-minute minor during the game. If you make about $41,000 per year (the average US income), it would take over five years to earn that much money for your family. Hell, that much money could buy you a house in most places.
All because of a grey area decision from man who is the judge and jury.
Different punishments for different players
Here’s where it gets interesting. Say someone like Zenon Konopka does the same thing (let’s be honest, it’s not that farfetched). If he was suspended for the same two-game period, he would lose just over $17,000 in salary. How is that right? There could be a guy who has a reckless past that would lose $17k? Because of Konopka’s $700,000 annual salary, he would have to be suspended for 26 games to lose the same amount of money that Doughty would lose for a three-game suspension.
From the team’s point of view, a three-game suspension is a three-game suspension. But from a player’s perspective, there’s a huge difference between losing $17,000 and $219,000. Yet no one talks about the difference.
Take it a step further: what if a player like Patrick Kaleta delivered a hit like James Wisniewski did in the preseason? Wisniewski was suspended for the rest of the preseason and eight regular season games. That much was well-publicized. The part that wasn’t as well-publicized – but raised eyebrows in locker rooms around the NHL – was that Wisniewski forfeited over $536,585 for his hit.
Now take someone like Patrick Kaleta. He also has a dodgy history of supplemental discipline and delivered a dirty, intentional cheap shot to an opponent in November. He was given a four-game suspension which cost him $19,621. That’s it.
Now I ask you—are those penalties even in the same stratosphere? Both delivered a cheap shot, both were repeat offender, and neither has a good reputation around the league with their fellow players. Yet one player was fined over $536,000 while the other was fined just over $19,000. Every player will say games matter—but look at the disparity in REAL punishments and its absurd.
There’s a part of all of these suspensions that fans are slow to fully understand. A three-game suspension to a 4th line winger is not the same thing as a three-game suspension to a high-priced superstar. No one is saying that a superstar should get the superstar treatment when entering Brendan Shanahan’s office; but there should be equality in all facets.
The same hit that costs one player $219,000 can’t cost another player $19,000. That’s the reality right now. The new system has been an overwhelming success—but it’s not perfect. The league needs to figure something out about the money portion of the fines or we could be in for a helluva battle in next year’s CBA negotiations.