Making Sense of the NHL’s Supplementary Discipline System

Never has a phrase been more appropriate than this one...

Want to make sense of the NHL’s decision making process for handing out suspensions? Start by adjusting your quaint expectations about the application of logic, consistency or fairness.

The NHL is, after all, in the entertainment business. And you wouldn’t go into the latest installment of GI Joe and quibble over the contrived plot, right? No, you’ll check your senses at the door and enjoy the improbable physics of the action sequences intersperced with wooden dialogue, while stuffing yourself with two days worth of sugar and salt that you paid $15 for.

What does this have to do with the NHL’s discipline system? Well, it’s pretty clear that the only way to make any sort of sense of it, is to suspend your disbelief and just accept it, no matter how absurd it might actually be seem. As the Wikipedia entry on ‘suspension of disbelief’ makes clear, the onus is on you to make sense of the decisions, rather than on the NHL to make decisions that make sense:

The phrase "suspension of disbelief" came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century, often used to imply that the burden was on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it.

And, if you’re not willing to suspend your disbelief, you might as well give up any form of entertainment and spend your time on the internet pointing out the plot holes in movies like Toy Story 3. I’ll give you a head start: IT’S A CARTOON, FOR #@$%#’s SAKE!!!

An interesting note in that Wikipedia entry is that "suspension of disbelief" is an essentional element of magic acts and circus sideshows. That explains SO MUCH.

With that in mind, here’s what Sideshow Rob had to say about the reasons behind Alex Edler’s suspension:

If you don’t have the time to watch the video, Cam Charron summed it up nicely:

Cam is referring to Shanny the Clown’s decision to do nothing about Milan Lucic’s open ice steamrolling of Ryan Miller last year: 

"The minor penalty called on the ice was the correct call," Shanahan said. "And, while it’s unfortunate that Miller was hurt I saw nothing egregious about this hit that would elevate it to supplemental discipline."

But that reasoning has apparently been stuffed down the memory hole.

Instead, despite the fact that Edler was punished more severely than Lucic by the on-ice officials, he was further disciplined with a two-game suspension because (a) he didn’t try to avoid contact, (b) Smith was injured on the play, and (c) he surpassed the NHL’s burden of proof for egregious infractions:

Burden of proof

What really made a mockery of the whole process is that the Edler suspension came on the same day the NHL made a rather poor decision to not do anything about a pretty blatant head shot by Rick Nash. This left quite a few people around the league confused about just what constitues an egregious hit, not least of which was Joffery Lupul, who was just coming off a two-game suspension for, by definition, an egregious head shot on Viktor Hedman:

So, to sum up, the NHL’s response to on-ice incidents:

  1. Is inconsistent with previous rulings;
  2. Is plagued by poor decisions; and
  3. Causes confusion.

Is it just me or is the NHL suffering from concussion symptoms:

The NHL is suffering concussion symptoms

Maybe Shanahan needs to spend some time in the quiet room, and then go seven full days without symptoms before he’s allowed to hand out any more supplementary discipline.

Which reminds me. Despite the superficial similarities, getting a call with Shanahan is nothing like getting sent to the principal’s office:

Supplementary, my dear Watson

That being said, I’m sure both Edler and Lupul would agree with one of the worst repeat offenders in the history of elementary school discipline:

My suspension was not mutual

Ok, that’s it with the Simpsons references. I promise.

On a serious note, I do have one final thought on this whole topic, however. As our own Big Brother, Thomas Drance, pointed out in the "official" Canucks Army take on the Edler suspension, the "NHL’s Department of Player Safety," with its clear reliance on memory holes, is sounding more and more Orwellian every day. But what’s really strange in all this is the players’ role in their own collective safety.

First, you have the NHL needing a separate department just to police often career-threatening player-on-player violence. Then you have players and agents alike, claiming that wearing visors should just be left up to player choice: 

Here’s my problem with this: wasn’t it just a few short months ago that we had guys like Allan Walsh telling us that one of main reasons NHL players deserve to be paid so much more than regular working stiffs is that they have such short careers?

So, needless exposure to potentially career-ending injuries should be left to player choice, but not taking up another career after hockey is just a natural occurrence and nothing to do with choice. Right.

Seems to me these guys understand risk quite well:

Risky business

Safety (deposit boxes) first!

Coaching Tenure Revisited

Finally, in the previous edition of Graphic Comments, I had my say on the topic of Alain Vigneault and coaching tenure in general. One of the things I noted was:

You’ll find lots of Canucks’ fans pointing out statistical anomalies like almost half of Stanley Cup winning coaches have been with their teams for two years or less, and that no coach with more than four years tenure has ever won the Cup. What they won’t mention, or probably don’t even realize, is that there have been many more team-years coached by coaches in their 2-3 years than team-years coached by coaches with longer tenures. So it’s not really an anomaly after all. I haven’t done the math, but I’d be willing to bet that the percentages probably correlate pretty well.

Well, after that I did go and do the math, and this is what I found: 

I guess Al Arbour is a figment of my imagination

So there you have it.

Since the Canucks entered the league, playoff teams with a coach in his 7th year with the club are almost four times more likely to win the Cup (and three times more likely to even make the Final) as playoff teams that changed their coach mid-season.

Oh, and um, I think maybe Botch dropped Al Arbour down a memory hole:



  • Fred-65

    You would think they could wireframe the players bodies or remove all identifying marks from the review of incidents and let some non-interested hockey group evaluate the incident and see if it meets the definition of “headshot”, “eggregious hit”, whatever. Put stuff like relative heights and any context like player x hit player y earlier into their evaluation.

  • Fred-65

    Good piece on the Department/Ministry of Player Safety. I hate to be a tinfoil hat type of person, but it’s becoming clear to me that a fair amount of league politics plays into these decisions.

    Also, a minor note, those venn diagrams really do nothing for me. I pretty much just gloss over them now.