The NHL boasts that it wants to keep its players safe and remove dangerous checks from the game, threatening lengthy suspensions and hefty fines to players who are the assailants of dangerous checks or plays. The job of keeping the players safe belongs to the league’s Department of Player Safety, headed by former NHL enforcer George Parros.
This season especially, Parros and his crew failed miserably at getting calls right. Rather, the inconsistencies in punishment created confusion and anger among many fans and players.
Last week, San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane was dealt a three-game suspension for elbowing Neal Pionk in the head. For Kane, a repeat offender, this punishment was the last straw. The punishment was not unfair, as the hit was blatantly reckless. But while Kane receives discipline repeatedly, other incidents go entirely unnoticed by the league.
Kane took to social media, releasing a statement expressing his grievances with the league’s disciplinary process. It was the first instance of a player having the courage to publicly criticize the department, which has been broken for many years.
He called for a dismantlement of the NHL’s centralized Department of Player Safety, and a transition to a third party source to make disciplinary decisions. Kane explained that outsourcing would remove bias from the process.
Ironically, Kane, who is known to be one of the more vicious players in the league, makes a great point on how the league can improve player safety. Having a former player lead the way on making suspension choices can be rather problematic. Parros played with and against players all across the league. It would not be surprising, considering his ties, if he favored some players to others.
Moving to a third party decision-making body would also allow the league to overhaul the entire disciplinary process, and make it more transparent to fans. As it stands currently, it is rather uncertain what goes into deciding punishment for players.
We know players are usually offered a hearing to discuss any incident, and players with a history of dangerous behavior are prone to receive stiffer penalties. Besides that, fans and even players are in the dark about how the process works.
How does the department decide if an incident is worthy of a fine versus a suspension? What warrants a three-game suspension instead of a one-game suspension? No one knows.
The Department of Player Safety essentially gets together and randomly decides how long a player will sit as a result of their action. It does not appear that precedent is taken into account. It is like they spin a wheel to determine each suspension’s length by chance.
The league needs to adopt a systematic process that explicitly says what actions warrant which disciplines. It cannot be a system where the opinions of a few individuals determine the outcome.
Kane’s anger was backed specifically on recent incidents that occurred around the same time as his illegal check. He referenced Zdeno Chara’s nasty cross check to the neck of Brendan Gallagher that only recieved a fine. He also pointed to a Lawson Crouse elbow to the head of Charlie McAvoy, a play that went entirely unpunished. The hit was nearly identical to the one Kane received a three-game booking for.
The stark inconsistencies in punishments leave players uncertain of what they can get away with on the ice, ultimately leaving the game as unsafe as ever. Certain players receive a label as a “dirty player” and get suspended for everything they do. Meanwhile, other players who do not have such a bad rap can do whatever they want, sometimes without even a minor penalty call.
Kane deserves the suspensions and fines he gets, but Parros seems to forget about the rest of the league as he zones in on a few select players with bad reputations. Instead of truly keeping the game safe, they try to set an example of a few individuals.
While Kane may act recklessly on the ice, he knows exactly how to make hockey safer.