Suspension Buzz as Wilson Avoids Supplemental Discipline

Many were shocked today, as Tom Wilson was neither suspended nor fined after sending Brayden Schenn hard into the boards, earning himself a major penalty and a game misconduct for charging. It didn’t take long for Brendan Shannahan to announce that he wanted to speak to the 19-year-old about it.

But just this afternoon the Department of Player Safety announced that Wilson would receive no supplemental discipline for the hit that even Mike Milbury said the league “should be trying to get out of the game”. A video explaining the lack of suspension was released shortly after the announcement was made, and as much as you hate to see players injured, it actually makes a great deal of sense.

Without a doubt, this has been far from a great month in terms of player safety. Nine suspensions totaling 38 games have been handed down this month so far, meaning NHL players as a whole are losing one game to suspensions for almost every 3 games played (there have been 120 in December prior to tonight’s action). With numbers like that, it’s easy to portray the NHL as an out-of-control melee instead of a carefully monitored sport. So lets examine all nine suspensions.

DATE NAME INFRACTION SUSPENSION
12/7 James Neal (PIT) Kneeing (Brad Marchand, BOS) 5 Games
12/7 Shawn Thornton (BOS) Agressing (Brooks Orpik, PIT) 15 Games
12/8 Dion Phaneuf (TOR) Boarding (Kevan Miller, BOS) 2 Games
12/10 Jared Cowen (OTT) Illegal Check to the Head (Zemgus Girgensons, BUF) 2 Games
12/10 Richard Panik (TBL) Boarding (Karl Alzner, WAS) 2 Games
12/12 David Clarkson (TOR) Illegal Check to the Head (Vladimir Sobotka, STL) 2 Games
12/14 Anthony Peluso (WPG) Boarding (Alex Gligoski, DAL) 3 Games
12/14 Deryk Engelland (PIT) Illegal Check to the Head (Justin Abdelkader, DET) 5 Games
12/15 Corey Potter (EDM) Boarding (Nick Bonino, ANH) 2 Games

Removing Thornton’s penalty (since it occurred after the whistle and away from the play and wasn’t a “Hockey Play” to steal a term from American Football), you’re left with eight suspensions averaging 2.875 games/suspension. Compare that to October, which saw 10 suspensions averaging 4.4 games per suspension (or, if you prefer an identical sample size, there were six suspensions between 10/1 and 10/19, averaging 4.6 games/suspension). In the entirety of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, there were 17 suspensions totaling 47 games, for an average of 2.765 games each. These averages are important, because they show, overall, the severity of the infractions. By the numbers, October was a much more violent month than December. The notion that this month, Professional Hockey is an veritable crime spree is a pronounced distortion of the truth.

That being said, the numbers also appear to be trending down season to season. In the 2011-12 season (a full season), for instance, there were 35 total suspensions resulting in 101 total games, for an average of 2.885 games/suspension. That was a significant downturn from the 2010-11 season which saw 32 total suspensions for 116 games, averaging 3.625 games/suspension. While the number of suspensions is remaining relatively similar, the length of those suspensions is decreasing, and not because Shannahan is going soft, either. The fact of the matter is, the while hockey is a fast game, and players continue to make split-second mistakes, the severity of those mistakes is going down. Players are more conscious of each other than ever before, thanks to the Dept. of Player Safety keeping a close eye out and communicating more than ever to explain rulings to teams and fans.

There is one problem that is getting bigger and bigger, however, but it’s not getting any press at all: thanks to these more stringent rules, players appear to be deliberately putting themselves in more vulnerable positions in the hopes that being more vulnerable will deter a hit, or at least provide a powerplay if their opponent follows through. Watch the next time you see a player move in to play a puck along the boards. It won’t take long before you see the first player in bend over with his feet apart facing the glass, daring his opponents to deliver a check that would almost certainly be called for boarding. This phenomenon isn’t specific to one team, or one group of players, it seems to be going on league-wide, and Wilson’s hit on Schenn is a perfect example. Rather than stick to the boards, wrapping the puck around the glass and getting bumped for his trouble, Schenn opts to put himself in a more vulnerable position, hoping to avoid the hit entirely. A similar example came earlier this season, when Cody McLeod was suspended 5 games for boarding Niklas Kronwall:

Again, we see a player intentionally putting themselves in a more vulnerable position to try and avoid the hit. While responsibility is ultimately on the player making the hit to make a good decision in terms of when and when not to make a check, all players have a responsibility to themselves, and the integrity of the game, to play with as much awareness as possible. And that includes the awareness that in today’s NHL, you’re going to get hit.

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One response to “Suspension Buzz as Wilson Avoids Supplemental Discipline”

  1. Bill S. says :

    You already know how I feel about the more egregious hits, and I don’t disagree with you concerning how some players seem to be flirting with death by deliberately putting themselves in a vulnerable position.

    But the real problem is that the players themselves don’t seem to care if they injure someone else. And that is the culture I think that really needs to change before anything meaningful will come of this disciplinary crackdown.

    I’ve seen several games where the offensive player managed to remove his defensive counterpart without drilling him. That’s where the focus needs to be, particularly in college-level and junior league level games. Players need to be reminded that the advent of helmets and shields does NOT make it safe to clobber someone, anymore than seatbelts make it safe to speed on the highway.

    Players lost a valuable commodity in the eighties and nineties – they lost their respect for each other.

    In my tiny, humble opinion, of course. :-)

    Oh, and nice write up. Will have to go back as time permits and read the other pieces you have up.

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