There are plenty of issues that are going to be discussed during the Collective Bargaining negotiations between now and the beginning of next season (whenever that may be). Players hate the escrow system and the owners would like more than 43% of the revenues. Either one of those issues could postpone the start of training camp—the combination of the two could put the beginning of the season in jeopardy.
But another issue that’s lying just below the surface that is a significant sticking point for the players is the appeals process for any suspensions handed down by Brendan Shanahan. Just about every player we’ve talked to has agreed that Shanahan has been given a very difficult task and he’s doing a good job. Unfortunately, there are players who do have problems with the current system that’s in place.
ViewFromMySeats.com was able to ask NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman point blank about the players’ concerns regarding the appellate process a few weeks ago—specifically that if they are suspended, some players feel that there is no recourse:
“That’s not true. The collective bargaining agreement provides for an appellate process. The way it’s set up is that I have nothing to do with the initial stage; and so the appeal comes to me. Any player who has appealed it has gotten a fair appellate hearing. You can complain about anything you want, but this was a process that was negotiated in collective bargaining numerous times and we think it’s worked well.” –Gary Bettman
To clarify, here’s how the NHL’s discipline process works. After Brendan Shanahan and the league’s Department of Player Safety reviews a questionable hit, they’ll contact the player for an in-person or telephone hearing (depending on the severity of the possibly punishment). Once the player is able to state his case and explain his actions, motives, history, etc., the league will hand down what they see as an appropriate punishment. In this case, the league is the police officer, judge, jury, and executioner.
If a player is unhappy with the league’s ruling, they are able to appeal the judgment by going through the NHL’s appeals process. Here’s how the process plays out: the issue is forwarded to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to review and he has the right to adjust the penalty (or eliminate altogether) as he sees fit. That’s the process.
To this point, not a single ruling has been adjusted.
NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr spoke about the appellate process when he met with the media over the All-Star break last month. He was asked by the media: “Are the players satisfied with the supplemental discipline process the way it’s currently set up?”
“You’re going to need to ask the players, and you’re going to need to ask the players particularly that went through it. Since I got asked about a philosophical question, I will simply say this at this point: Whenever you have a system in which somebody can say, ‘I conclude, more or less as a prosecutor, there’s a violation of the agreement and you have X penalty and it is substantial, and you DON’T have anything which resembles what anyone in the U.S. or Canada would call ‘due process,’ you have philosophical issues which are raised.”
Mr. Fehr’s statement wasn’t really surprising after talking to players about the supplemental discipline process since the beginning of the season. Again, most players are in agreement that Brendan Shanahan is doing a good job, but the major concerns have been about the amount of money lost during the suspensions and the lack of any substantive appeals process.
In response to Mr. Fehr’s comments regarding the appeals process, we took his advice and asked a player who has been suspended this season. Here’s what the unnamed player had to say about the current appeals process:
“I think there should be a way for a player to appeal a suspension. I think that if there was a way, the league and the union would have to go a smart way to go about it to figure out how to deal with it. But I think that, there should be a guideline that you can’t just appeal every single suspension as well either, right? I think that there are times when maybe, there’s a second party that kind of weighs in on it and it’s not just Shanahan vs. the player sort of thing. Maybe there’s another party that’s separated from both and has no one weighing in on either the players or the NHL, they’re just literally a separate party that can weigh in and go about seeing if the suspension is worthy or maybe it should be less—or maybe it should be more. I definitely think there should be some sort of appeals process though.”
He continued as he respectfully wondered if there could be an unbiased third party to arbitrate in the future:
“You know, like when you go to court, there’s a jury. It’s not just you versus the judge. There’s also other people weighing in on it and, it’s definitely a hard process to go about and what to do about it, but I think that if there is a way to put in a separate party that has no connection to either the union or the NHL, that also has hockey knowledge to weigh-in on it, I think that would definitely be beneficial.”
The previously suspended player also brought up the importance of a justifiable appeals process because, not only does it affect the players’ livelihood, but it also affects each individual team when they can lose an important player for a stretch of games. If nothing else, it’s important to make sure that they’re getting the penalties right when there is this much is at stake.
“You look back at the suspensions and Shanahan has a really tough job and you can’t take anything away from him for that, but I definitely think that when it comes time when guys are getting suspended—especially key players like Alex Ovechkin—those are key players on your team sitting out for three games; I definitely think there should be some type of appeals process when there’s that much money and key players involved.”
Finally, we cut to the chase and asked the player if he would have appealed if there was a different system in place.
“I believe—it’s in the past and I’ve moved on from it and I don’t really want to turn over stones—but I definitely felt that if there was an appeal process, I definitely would have taken advantage of it…”
Keep this in mind when the league and Players Association go to war over the next Collective Bargaining Agreement this summer. It’s one of many issues that needs to be hammered about before we get to see hockey again next season.