Ronco’s Rant: Department of Player Safety

The proposed realignment, musical coaches, and who will get Rick Nash are among some of the big stories from this season.  I feel that the one that stands above the rest however, is the continuing saga of the Department of Player Safety’s continued struggle to do just that: protect the players.  Credit where credit is due, Brendan Shanahan has elevated the DoPS above the apparent ineptitude of previous seasons.  Still, the inconsistent on-ice rulings and inconsistent suspensions will keep plaguing the league unless some hardline decisions are made.

Mar 3, 2009; Toronto, ON, CANADA; New Jersey Devils forward Brendan Shanahan (18) during the pregame warmup prior to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Let’s look at this in a logical progression; where all the issues start is in the on-ice rulings.  Two referees are sometimes not enough to cover the entire surface with surveillance, and because of this many penalties can go uncalled.  Given that to err is human, it is a wholly acceptable flaw in the system, and one that has no immediate fix.  The league can’t simply add more refs to the game because that would just put more people in the way.  I had a solution of reducing the linesmen to one person off the ice and set cameras at each of the blue lines, allowing the person to do the job of two and alleviate the amount of ice space taken up, but even that has a flaw.  Whereas their immediate job is different, both linesmen and refs work to separate players in a scrum, so removing them could also lead to increased open hostility without the risk of interjection.  Since that clearly isn’t an option, we have to look to other alternatives.

Another idea is to simply increase the effective penalty at the time of incident.  If a player commits an illegal hit or elbowing to the head, or any penalty where the victim is injured and removed from the ice, the offending player should receive an immediate game misconduct and removed from the game.  The message this sends is simple: play safe and smart, or you’re ass is grass.  To clarify, by “injured and removed from the ice” I do not mean in the case where someone has a bloody nose, or somesuch superficial injury.  For example: if a boarding call is made, and the victim has to be helped to the locker room, then the offending player should receive a 2 minute minor for the boarding call, a 10 minute game misconduct and an automatic review by the DoPS.  This brings me to the next step in the system.

In addition to reviewing certain penalties from on-ice calls, the DoPS should also review games in full, as a second layer of redundancy to catch anything the officials may have missed.  This should be the first step in any action taken by the Department itself, and in fact in most cases it is.  Unfortunately these do seem limited to calls made by officials during the game.  The Department and the league as a whole should not acknowledge that the game officials can see all and are therefore able to rule on all on-ice happenings.

The rulings themselves, the meat and bones of the Department’s power, seem to be the part of the system most lacking in potency.  The simple fact of the matter is that the rulings are wholly inconsistent.  As I said in our last Roundtable, the answer to the problem lies simply in math.  The main things that Shanahan always talks about are intent to injure, injury caused, type of penalty, and previous history, each of which should carry a different weight in determining the appropriate suspension.  Here is an example of how I think the system should work:
Type of penalty: The length of the suspension should directly correlate to the penalty.  Say that charging and interference get one game; boarding, elbowing and hit to the head get two; also take into account whether or not the victim put himself in a position to be injured.
Intent to injure: This is a big one, I’d suggest doubling the type of penalty suspension if intent can be proven.
Injury caused: Again, double the suspension if there was injury caused.
Previous history: This should weigh the most in determining the suspension.  Even if the player has no previous history, or no history with the certain penalty, leniency should not be shown since every repeat offender starts somewhere.  From there the league should institute something akin to a three strikes rule with every repeat offense causing the suspension to be multiplied further.  This will not only curb players from becoming overly physical, but will cause coaches and GMs to reconsider signing players to act as enforcers or thugs.
In addition to this, the timing of the penalties should be taken into effect.  Take the recent Raffi Torres suspension for example: reviewable offenses in the playoffs should not only be reviewed before the next scheduled game in a series, but the offending player should at minimum be suspended for the remainder of the series.  In Torres’ case, I believe that the DoPS not only handed out a sufficient length of penalty, but was also wise in stating that he will remain suspended throughout both post and preseason games until his sentence is fully served.

Again looking to Torres’ case as an example, repeat offenders and those involved in cases where serious injury was caused should not be allowed appeals.  It may seem a bit extreme, but these cases should be treated with the utmost severity because it is not the offender’s career that is being defended, but the victim’s well being.

Lastly, the fines allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement are outright insulting.  Shea Weber’s disgraceful act against Henrik Zetterberg carried only a $2500 fine.  Understandingly this cannot be changed until the CBA is renewed in a few years, but I propose this change: fines should reflect the severity of the offense, and additionally should increase according to the length of suspension handed out by the Department.

My ideas are not without loopholes and ways to exploit them, but then again I never claimed to be a legal professional or employee of the league in such matters.  My opinions are just that, observations of a concerned fan who wishes to see the league do its part in attempting to protect its players.  I believe that Mr. Shanahan is doing all within his power to bolster the Department of Player Safety, that great change comes in small steps, and not all changes produce the desired effect.  To that end I have this to say directly to him: congratulations on your current and future progress.

 Blades of Teal ~ The Final Word On Sharks Hockey.

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