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Sunday, March 11, 2021

suspended suspense
So the NHL has come down hard on New York Islanders right wing Chris Simon — or at least, harder than it ever has before. For connecting on a blatant baseball-bat swing with his stick on Ryan Hollweg’s head, Simon has been suspended for 25 games, meaning he’ll miss the remainder of the Islanders’ regular season, however many playoff games they play this year, and additional games to start the 2007-08 season if necessary.

The ruling was debated a bit today on NBC’s NHL pregame show, with Brett Hull arguing that it should have been twice as long. When countered with the argument that a lengthier suspension wouldn’t have sent any stronger of a message, Hull hit back with this rationale: “Then why suspend Simon at all?”

Which makes sense. If the length of a suspension has a limited impact on the punishment being conveyed, then why quibble over the number of games? That number certainly matters to Simon, in a number of ways: He doesn’t get paid for the games he misses, and since his contract with New York runs out after this season, his tenure with the Islanders could be over. Not only that, but past players who’ve gone through one of these extended suspensions have seen their careers effectively end; Simon might not be in that position, but he is 35 and largely a one-dimensional player, so it’s conceivable that he might have played not only his last Islanders game, but also his last National Hockey League game. But that’s happened in the past, and as this incident illustrates, it hasn’t permanently deterred repeat performances.

But ultimately, what it comes down to is that the punishment comes down solely on Simon. Does it hurt the Islanders? Not really. They’ll have to replace the grit and intimidation he brings, but he’s a minor cog. Having him out of the roster won’t determine whether or not they make the postseason, nor how far they’ll go in the playoffs.

So in cases like this, where the offending action was so grievous, I think the league should take into consideration the team-oriented approach that NHL clubs espouse so often. Rather than single out the one player who committed the crime, make the punishment even more meaningful by taking action against the team.

How? Other Islanders, who are presumably more essential to the team’s performance, could be kept out of play for some period of time: Jason Blake, Tom Poti, even Rick DiPietro. Again, if the idea is to levy a punishment that would discourage future repeat performances, then knowing that your teammates would also lose playing time and money might make a headhunter think twice.

Of course, that’s hardly fair to the other players, even if they buy into the idea of a team’s collective responsibility for on-ice actions. So perhaps a more palatable, and even more effective measure:

Deduct points from the team’s season standings.

There’s some precedence for such an action from the NCAA, when teams which are discovered to have indulged in past recruiting violations are forced to forfeit titles they’d won during the years in question. Granted, those punishments are largely hollow, as they come retroactively, but it’s a basis for more concrete action.

In the case of a team like the Islanders, who are fighting off other teams for a postseason spot, this is the deadliest punitive action possible. It brings in the possibility of missing the playoffs, and with them the gravy that is playoff revenue. From a fan perspective, it throws a curveball into the playoff races.

I know: This will never happen, not in the Simon situation nor in the next record-breaking suspension. But if the NHL (or any other sports league) truly wants to curb this sort of behavior, it’s a solution that has more teeth to it than what’s been attempted so far.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/11/2021 08:29:28 PM
Category: Hockey | Permalink |

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  1. Costa, I like your ideas for many, many things.

    This is not one of them.

    I love a team approach to everything, but you can’t let one person’s quick lapse in judgement effect anything other than the incident itself.

    What about the player? What if he has years left on a contract and he does something like this? What’s the lockerroom like then?

    Even from a PR approach it’s bad. Imagine talking about the stick-swinging for the rest of the year because the Islanders are on the edge of the playoffs? Every time the standings are shown it’d be mentioned.

    Just my quickie thoughts.

    Comment by David — 03/12/2021 @ 10:14:02 AM

  2. What about the player? What if he has years left on a contract and he does something like this? What’s the lockerroom like then?

    But what’s the lockerroom like now? Look at the other players in recent years who’ve had 20+ game suspensions: Marty McSorley, Gordie Dwyer, Todd Bertuzzi, Brad May. All have wound up with a new address not long after their incidents. I think a dark cloud hovers over that player no matter what.

    Even from a PR approach it’s bad. Imagine talking about the stick-swinging for the rest of the year because the Islanders are on the edge of the playoffs? Every time the standings are shown it’d be mentioned.

    Is there such a thing as bad PR? ;) Similar to above, the incident’s going to be talked about for the rest of the Isles’ season, no matter how far they go.

    This isn’t meant to discount the original idea, but like I said: I don’t expect something so radical as a standings penalty to ever come to pass. Much as Hull’s comments were off-the-cuff, my thoughts here are presented as food for thought. I’m looking at it in terms of the relative ineffectiveness of multi-game suspensions in preventing such incidents from occurring every couple of years; since they don’t seem to do the trick, some other structure of redress should be explored.

    Comment by CT — 03/12/2021 @ 09:11:24 PM

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