Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The NHL star system: A humble suggestion

I'm no expert on things hockey.  This blog should have made that abundantly clear to readers by now!  Regardless, I'm doing my best to keep abreast of the big picture issues in the NHL and can perhaps offer an outside perspective for everyone's consideration.  Hey, it's something to do on an off-night for the Jackets...


Today, I'd like to tackle the Alexander Ovechkin suspension situation.  There was all sorts of hue and cry over whether Ovi would get suspended, and - if he did - how long would the league REALLY sit the reining league MVP?  As we all know, there's a star system in professional sports.  The premise is simple: If you put butts in seats and sell tons of merchandise with your picture/name/number on it, you get kid glove treatment from the Powers That Be.

When you get to the NHL, however, the issue is a little more complex.  These guys are like licensed weapons on the ice, hurtling around with their sticks and blades, chucking a puck at 100+ mph.  People REALLY get hurt out there.  Hoops is a sissy sport (He hand-checked me!  Wah!), and there really aren't any dangerous stars in the NFL outside of Ray Lewis (and look at how hard of a time the NFL has had keeping him and his thuggish Baltimore defense in line).  But hockey is a sport where you can be damned good and a public menace at the same time.

(Why, yes, Mr. Ovechkin, we were discussing you...)

So Ovi plays a game that tends toward the thuggish side, and he's been able to get away with it because he's such an incredible shot against everyone except Steve Mason.  But he bumped up against the NHL disciplinary system when he had one too many game misconducts after another knee-to-knee hit.  So the league (probably reluctantly) had to do something.  They suspended him for 2 games.  (I know that he sustained a knee injury to himself in the hit, but I won't address the logic of a 2-game suspension when you know he's going to be out for a couple of games just to get well.  That's another issue altogether.)

Two games to Ovi apparently is worth roughly $100,000 in lost salary.  It also is a significant penalty to the NHL as a league, who loses a marquee name for 2 games and has that much less exposure at a time where it needs all of the exposure it can get (cough-cough-VERSUS-cough-cough).  So there has to be a better solution.

Try this on.  Using the exact same circumstances of Ovechkin's suspension as a model, I would suggest that the NHL take a two-pronged approach to player discipline from the league office.  The player can pick his poison.

1. The first option is the two-game suspension.  Sit and sulk, and we'll see you next week.


2. Another option would be a fine in lieu of a suspension.  Not a small fine, but rather a multiple of the salary value of the suspension.  In this case, if 2 games is worth $100,000 to Ovechkin, then levy the fine around 2.5 times the value of the suspension, or $250,000.  Maybe even a slightly higher multiple.  That's enough to get his attention, perhaps cause some remorse and still keep him on the ice.  If the player pays the fine, it simply comes out of his pocket.  If the team picks up the fine (as they often do), the fine would count against the team's salary cap as de facto new salary paid.  If he goes to the round of discipline and gets the 5-game suspension, Ovechkin's alternate fine would jump to something like $625,000.

Just a thought, one that can potentially keep star players on the ice while ensuring that the NHL's somewhat bizarre disciplinary system keeps a shred of integrity.  Opinions?

3 comments:

  1. Fining guys like Ovi is just a slap on the wrist, and hitting a young turk playing on an entry-level contract can kill a young blue-chip player's livelihood. I say stop fining the individual players for offenses and fine the offending CLUB. If a player's lack of discipline starts hitting the higher-ups in the wallet, I have no doubt the hammer would come down on dirty players pretty quick; Clean up your game or clean out your stall.

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  2. That's why I was suggesting that the fine be big enough to grab their attention. If the 2.5x multiple isn't big enough, bump it to 4 or 5.

    If it's the club that has to pay the fine, I say tack it onto their cap hit as well. THAT would grab some attention...at least on the non-budget teams...

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  3. Your Friendly Pens FanDecember 3, 2009 at 8:03 PM

    I have to say no to the bigger fine thing. I think suspensions hit players harder than money. No player wants to sit out. I understand what you are saying about fans wanting to see the stars, but honestly what hockey fan is going to skip going to a hockey game because Ovi or Malkin or Iginla or whoever isn't playing? My point is that while a team's management/ownership or the NHL may want the stars to play every single game in a season, that doesn't happen anyway because of injuries. So foregoing suspensions for higher fines, doesn't really help the cause. I think the real way to stop certain behaviors is longer suspensions. I think suspensions should be a minimum of 5 games. None of this 2 game crap. Also, the suspensions should be levied based on the behavior so that the riskiest fouls garner the biggest suspension - i.e., head shots would be 20 games, hitting from behind would be 15 games, knee-on-knee would be 10 games. Or something like that - you get the point. To me, that's the best way to stop the dirty plays.

    As for the Ovi situation specifically, I was initially excited that he was being suspended. I thought FINALLY - the league is doing something. But then I realized that it was known he would be out at least 2 days with his injury anyway and I realized the NHL Powers-that-Be totally took the easy way out. They can say that they punished him, but we all know they really didn't. Frankly, I thought Ovi should have been suspended during the playoffs on his knee-on-knee hit to Gonchar. If you watch that play, there is no way you can say he didn't do it on purpose. No way. What will be interesting is the next time Ovi does something. Now that he's been suspended (whether a joke or not), he now has the dreaded "record" that is discussed a lot in the punishment realm. How will the NHL be able to justify no punishment next time with his record? It will be interesting, that's for sure.

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