One of the most important concepts of playing the game of hockey is to keep one’s stick on the ice. Coaches and parents do everything they can to embed into the minds and instincts of children of the game this very simple rule. Keep your stick on the ice so you can catch a pass, clear a stray puck, etc.
But the rule is important for other reasons as well – to keep players out of the box. Lately, in the NHL, it seems players have purposefully disregarded this rule. Lately, three players in particular have ignored the ever important pillar of discipline: Gustav Nyquist, Alex Chiasson, and Antoine Vermette.
While most coaches and parents tell their players on keep their sticks on the ice so as not to miss a pass, I’m here to tell these three guys, albeit, after the fact, in order to avoid arbitrary discipline.
On Sunday, the Detroit Red Wings visited the Minnesota Wild. Nyquist of the Red Wings was involved in a battle along the boards when Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon gave him a little shove from behind. Spurgeon’s shove did not warrant any discipline, and was not intended to injure Nyquist. The hitnwas merely part of the game. Nevertheless, Nyquist took exception to the shove, turned around, and maliciously struck Spurgeon in the face with the toe of his blade. On the ice, Nyquist received a double minor penalty for high-sticking. Nyquist would return to the game.
After the game, Nyquist was given an in-person hearing on Wednesday, but waived his right to appear, opting instead for a phone hearing. The NHL handed out a six-game suspension to Nyquist for his actions on Sunday. Despite claiming this was accidental, Nyquist and the Red Wings will not appeal the decision. The rationale behind the suspension is that this was Nyquist’s first encounter with the law – he had never been suspended before.
According to Rule 60.3, a double-minor penalty is assessed “for all contact that’s ccases injury, whether accidental or careless, in the opinion of the Referee.” Well, this wasn’t just careless or accidental, despite but Nyquist claims. Nyquist turned around, saw exactly what he was doing, and swung with intent to injure. Rule 60.4 is more apt for this situation. The rule states that a match penalty is assessed when a Referee determines that a player acted in an attempt to “deliberately” injure an opponent. Match penalties come with an automatic game ejection. Instead, Nyquist was assessed a double minor and skated free afterwards. Rule 60.6 states that there is no automatic supplementary discipline for this offense, but the Commissioner may apply such at his discretion (as per Rule 28). In other words, Gary Bettman gets arbitrary discretion here.
Nyquist hit Spurgeon directly below the visor and below the left eye. What if Spurgeon wasn’t wearing a visor and the blade struck Spurgeon’s face a couple of inches higher? Spurgeon could have been rendered blind in one eye, virtually ending his career. This type of violence is almost reminiscent of Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Simon. There is simply no place for this kind n of action in the game. Zac Rinaldo of the Boston Bruins tweeted that if Rinaldo committed the offense, he’d be in jail. He’s probably not far off, despite the glaring differences in he type of player each one represents.
On Wednesday, Calgary Flames’ Alex Chiasson speared Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Nick Cousins in the gut well after the whistle was blown and the players were heading off for a line change.
Moronically, Chiasson did this with a Referee staring right at the incident.
According to Rule 62.1, this is spearing, as Chiasson used the toe of his blade to inflict injury upon Cousins. Such a penalty is followed by a five-minute major and a game misconduct penalty. Thus, Chiasson was rightfully ejected. There is no specific supplemental discipline that follows, but good ol’ Rule 28 gives Commissioner Bettman the arbitrary discretion to impose fines or suspensions if he pleases. Here, Chiasson owned up to his actions, admitting the stupidity in retaliation from an earlier unnoticed slash by Cousins earlier in the game. The league has not imposed any further discipline upon Chiasson.
Forget putting the team short-handed for five minutes. Everyone knows that the vast majority of the time, the retaliator is always the one to get caught. Cousins did a great job of getting under Chiasson’s skin and agitating him. The Flyers’ jersey sure fits him well. But it’s hockey! Hockey is a game of mental toughness just as much as it is a game of physicality. So what if Cousins gave him a nice whack when the ref didn’t see it? My advice to Chiasson: either ignore it, or do something about it next shift, like line him up, or do it back when the ref isn’t looking. Chiasson was a bonehead for retaliating after the whistle, especially in the presence of the Referee. He knows it, too.
On Tuesday evening, Anaheim Ducks center Antoine Vermette got ready to take the draw against Minnesota Wild Captain and pivot, Mikko Koivu, just outside of the Ducks’ zone. Linesman Shandon Alphonso dropped the puck, and before Vermette could even set his stick ok the ice, Koivu won the draw clean and uncontested. The play began, but Vermette stood there, angrily for a moment, and then slashed Alphonso on the back of the leg with his stick.
Now, this was not the kind of slash that would snap even the brittle, hollow sticks that the players use these days. But it was enough for Alphonso to feel and invoke the Abuse of an Official rules. This particular slash falls under Rule 40.3, a Category II offense. The rule provides, in pertinent part, that, when “physical force is applied [to a Referee] without intent to injure…[the player] shall be automatically suspended for not less than ten (10) games” (emphasis added). The key word here for Vermette’s punishment here is “shall” – there is no wiggle room. Furthermore, according to Rule 40.5 (v), the Commissioner may only reduce the suspension for a Category III offense, as related to Rule 40. Since this is not the case, there should be no discretion below the 10-game mark. Instead, Bettman arbitrarily reduced the suspension length. But only the Players’ Association could theoretically appeal the decision further, and that certainly won’t happen here.
If the league is intent on removing “dirty” and dangerous plays from the game, it needs to be more consistent and less arbitrary in its rulings. Sure, Bettman probably reduced Vermette’s suspension by half to avoid the negative publicity that comes with a lawsuit, kind of like “Deflategate.” But if the disciplinary actions were fair and consistent to begin with, the problems solve themselves. What if the fans decided to suspend the league for five days, not showing up to games, not watching on TV, or not buying any merchandise? Would that get the league’s attention? I’m sure the fans, myself included, would be much happier with justice and integrity coming from the NHL.
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