In The GM’s Chair #3 – Solving The NHL’s Discipline Issue


This edition of In The GM’s Chair will not focus on an Ottawa Senators issue, but a League issue.

With so much talk about headshots and supplemental discipline (or lack thereof) around the NHL lately, GMs, Owners, Coaches, Players, Media and fans have all voiced an opinion about what can be done.  In speaking with a co-worker about the situation,  he brought up an interesting possible solution.  This solution would not be geared only towards headshots, but any action that meets the criteria for a suspendable act.


The key to effectively curbing the unwanted actions, aside from making the players have respect for one another, is to find a way to put sufficient penalties in place to reinforce the fact that the acts are unacceptable.  The CBA states that the most a player can be fined is $2,500 per incident.  That amount is hardly prohibitive, even for those players making the league minimum.  Fining the organization as per Mario Lemieux’s recent proposal is fine, but again it is just money, and until multiple infractions occur the amounts don’t add up to much.


Our solution may not be simple to implement, and it is by no means polished.  It would be very prohibitive for players to commit acts that are not supposed to be part of the game, but have crept into it.  The solution would, however, make players think twice before committing and act and failing that, make coaches think twice about inserting certain players into the lineup.

Suppose the player from Team A commits an act that results in a three game suspension.  Not only would that player miss the game and forfeit the salary as they do now, but Team A also begins those next game with a 2-minute disadvantage.  The level of disadvantage could increase as the number of games suspended increase.  Perhaps a set matrix such as this:

SuspensionPenalty for team
1-3 gamesShorthanded for opening 2 min next game
3-6 gamesShorthanded for opening  2 min next 2 games
6-9 gamesShorthanded for opening 2 min next 4 games
10-15 gamesShorthanded for opening 4 min next 2 cames
16+ gamesShorthanded for opening 4 min next 4 games

This is just a starting guideline, and the matrix could be tailored to more suit the needs of the league.  Multiple offenders could see their clubs’ punishment double in each case.  The rationale is that if the player can’t control themselves, and the club administration can’t control the player, then they should face the consequences of having that player in the lineup.  Realizing that accidents do happen and that all actions are not intended to injure, perhaps there could be a one time “get out of jail free card” to those first time offenders who are suspended for 1 or 2 games, and their team would not be punished.

This type of penalty would definitely make teams think twice before dressing players like Trevor Gillies (9 goals & 32 assists in 12 professional seasons, but with 2739 PIM).  Players like that seem to be suspended more than they are in the lineup.  It would force the team to pay the price for allowing their players to run roughshod over their opponents and play in a continuously reckless manner.

Players like Matt Cooke and Patrick Kaleta can be very effective players when they want to be, and they might think twice about crossing the line if it is going to hurt their team in future games as well.  They would be chastised in the dressing room by teammates and coaches alike if they take matters into their own hands and go off the deep end.  It won’t just be a penalty for that game, but for future games as well.  Not only do they suffer the loss of pay, but the team suffers as well.

In many cases the players who are getting suspended for multiple games are 4th liners who are essentially spare parts, and are easily replaceable in the lineup.  In many cases the replacement could be a more talented player, who would fill a different role.  The penalty of losing such a player to suspension does not necissarily negatively affect the team as a whole.  Forcing a team to start subsequent game(s) shorthanded might be a sufficient deterrent to hooliganism.


Rarely is any scenario perfect, without flaws.  This solution is no exception.  Hits like Chara’s on Pacioretty, which was not deemed suspendable by the NHL office, would not be subject to the penalties.  Those acts that only receive fines would also not be punished in this scenario.  But then again, if they were not suspendable, they couldn’t have been that bad.

Teams who might be in a fight for position with an affected team, or a team playing against an affected team might not appreciate the outcome of the games being affected by an act that wasn’t involved in the game.  To illustrate, lets say Detroit’s Dan Cleary gets suspended for 3 games for a high stick on Calgary’s Jarome Iginla.  He gets his three games, and under the proposed rule, his team needs to start the next game down a man for 2 minutes.  Detroit’s next game is against the Nashville Predators, a team that Calgary is fighting with for a playoff spot.  Nashville scores on the man advantage and beats Detroit, hurting Calgary’s chances at the playoffs.  Nashville gains from and Calgary loses based on a play that happened to the Flames.


Since it is becoming apparent that making players respect each other on the ice is a non-starter, the onus is on the league to save the players from each other.  This scenario is not perfect, but would hold players accoutable for their actions through the teams.  Organizations will have to determine if it is worth the risk to employ a player who has a history of indiscretions, and if they are willing to pay the price shoud they decide that the risk is worth it.

Obvioulsy this whole system is based on a system where the determination is still made by the league office, and how they make their decisions for supplemental discipline could require a whole mini-series of blogs to sort out.

Special thanks to Bruce Legault who planted the seed for this idea and helped me craft it into being.  If you don’t like it, blame him!


Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.

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