NHL Needs New Disciplinary System


Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Matt Cooke suspension came down last night and the Minnesota Wild forward got seven games for his knee-on-knee hit on Tyson Barrie.

Barrie injured his MCL on the play and will be out four to six weeks.

Patrick Burke with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety broke down the suspension in a video you can find here.

Brent Seabrook was also suspended for a blindside hit on David Backes earlier this week. The video for that incident can be found here.

While the Department of Player Safety have done a good job of explaining their reasoning for suspensions since they started making video’s to explain them, fans and media alike are questioning the lack of severity for these suspensions.

Perhaps the best example of that this year was David Clarkson.

Clarkson was suspended 10 games this year for leaving the bench in a preseason brawl. It was an automatic 10 game suspension, meaning the NHL didn’t have to rule on it.

Clarkson violated Rule 70.10, which is very clear in matters like this.

"The first player to leave the players’ or penalty bench illegally during an altercation or for the purpose of starting an altercation from either or both teams shall be suspended without pay for the next 10 regular League and/or playoff games of his team.”"

Pretty cut and dry in that instance, he was the first player over the boards and was suspended accordingly.

Here’s the video of that altercation.

Notice Clarkson? Probably not. You probably noticed John Scott, Phil Kessel, Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier. Safe to say that while Clarkson did something obviously wrong, he didn’t do anything nearly as bad as the Seabrook or Cooke incidents.

Now let’s look at Clarkson’s other suspension this year, an illegal hit to the head on Vladimir Sobotka.

Fair to say that hit looks way worse, it looks borderline intent to injure and is targeting the head. Yet according to the NHL it’s five times less dangerous than Clarkson leaving the bench? How does that make sense?

It’s time for the NHL to abandon its current disciplinary system in favour of one that isn’t so subjective. The problem with the Clarkson, Seabrook and Cooke suspensions is that they’re all ruled on subjectively, and while well explained in the videos, suspension length seems to change without much reasoning.

There weren’t the same complaints for the Clarkson leaving the bench suspension, because it was cut and dry in the rules. He left the bench, he’s getting 10 games.

So why doesn’t the NHL import a more rigid model? Let’s review the Seabrook hit on Backes.

Seabrook charged at him from distance, that’s a game.

He left his feet, that’s two more games.

It’s an intentional hit to the head, that’s four more games.

You can then add in a reduction for first timers, or where they clearly tried to avoid the hit, and on the other side add in a multiplier for repeat offenders like Matt Cooke who has been suspended multiple times for dirty hits.

If the numbers are cut and dry for what is and isn’t allowed, suspensions will not only become less debated, they may actually start to serve their purpose, which is to discourage illegal hits.

Nobody will dispute that the Cooke knee or the Seabrook hit or the Clarkson blindside are all far more dangerous than Clarkson leaving the bench to fight, yet that’s the most penalized play out of the four.

While you can debate how much each infraction deserves, a verified system in place would help the process and discourage players from the infractions. Players don’t jump over the bench because they know how heavy a penalty it carries.

If the system was set with a series of criteria to increase the suspension, as well as a multiplier for repeat offenders, hits from behind, to the head, or knee-on-knee hits can be removed from the game.