The problem with NHL discipline has never really been the actual rules themselves. The issue has always been with the complete lack of consistency in NHL punishment. Not many people get really upset when a player on their favourite team is called for slashing when the player is actually guilty of slashing. People do get upset when a player guilty of slashing isn’t called for a penalty… especially when another player was penalized for the same actions earlier that night.
However, it’s understandable that on-ice officials make mistakes. Hockey is a fast-moving game and even with two referees on the ice, some calls will be missed or blown. However, when supplementary discipline is discussed, it’s a little shocking that there’s so little consistency.
When NHL officials are deciding whether to suspend or fine a player, they have the benefit of video replay. They have the benefit of being able to compare similar infractions. They have the benefit of everything on-ice officials do not have. And yet consistency doesn’t seem to improve, does it?
The big discussion in the NHL is head shots. The NHL appears to be dedicated to cracking down on dangerous hits to the head and protecting the players. You would think that, since this is such an important issue, the league would put extra effort into staying consistent. Do they?
Doan was suspended for three games.
Martin was suspended for two games.
Foligno was fined $2,500 for the hit.
No penalties, suspensions or fines for Carcillo.
Brown was suspended for three games.
Thornton was suspended for two games.
No penalties, suspensions or fines for Staal.
Kostopoulos was suspended for six games.
No penalties, suspensions or fines for Steckel.
While we’re on the Crosby situation:
Hedman received a two minute boarding penalty.
Hjalmarsson was suspended for two games.
Of course, not all of these clips depict blindside head shots and not all of these hits require any sort of discipline. However, when you line them up one right after another it’s obvious that penalties and suspensions range wildly in the NHL. There really isn’t any consistency. Very similar plays led to very different responses from the league. Is the league right?
Obviously no two hits are exactly the same but, with the way the NHL deals out punishment, it’s difficult to say what the actual consequences for delivering a head shot really are.
Does the punishment depend on whether or not there is an injury? If so, injuries can also happen as a result of clean plays. Does it depend on the player’s prior record? Players who have never broken the rules before can still be guilty later on. Is there really a wheel of justice at NHL headquarters? Or is it all just a matter of keeping your head up? Does anyone know?