If you care about hockey, you can’t be anything but encouraged by the recent harsh suspensions to Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Twenty games for Downie and 25 for Boulerice, while still far short of the number of games many of us would like to see these miscreants sit out, is a step in the right direction and, you’d have to hope, sends the right message to the players.
Now it’s time for the NHL to do something about the way the Flyers are getting around the Downie suspension in particular. When Downie was suspended 20 games for his headshot to Dean McAmmond of the Ottawa Senators, the Flyers simply sent Downie down to the AHL, who ruled that he couldn’t play in that league until Nov. 3.
So, the Flyers simply called Downie back up to the big team to serve his suspension, and will send him down and call him back up periodically to, as Flyers GM Paul Holmgren put it, “chip away” at the NHL suspension. The only problem is that Downie will be eligible to play for the Flyers farm team Nov. 3 regardless of whether he’s with the Flyers or on the Philadelphia Phantoms roster.
So, in effect, when Downie is serving his NHL games, he’s effectively serving both suspensions concurrently. According to an NHL executive, the league is eager to look at closing that loophole next season.
One way to do it would be to pass a by-law stating that players who are suspended at the NHL level cannot be sent down to the minors until their suspension is served. Players currently can’t be sent down when they’re injured, so why not do the same when a player is suspended.
Unfortunately, the league also has it backwards in its philosophy for fining first-time offenders. Both Downie and Boulerice, who displayed a flagrant inability to control themselves in junior hockey (and in Boulerice’s case, in the minors), are considered first-time offenders at the NHL level.
That means that under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, their fines are calculated on a different formula than those of repeat offenders.
First-time offenders forfeit one day of pay for each game they lose in suspension. But their days of pay loss are based on the number of days in the regular season, which this season is 187 days. For each game the player is suspended, he loses 1/187th of his pay.
Repeat offenders, on the other hand, forfeit one game of NHL salary based on an 82-game regular season. For each game a repeat offender is suspended, he loses 1/82nd of his pay.
Under the current format, Downie was fined just over $63,000 for his hit on McAmmond. Under the repeat offender provisions, he would have been fined almost $143,000. Boulerice was also fined just over $63,000, but if he had been a repeat offender, he would have been docked the same amount as Downie.
What kind of sense does that make, particularly in the case of Boulerice? First of all, Boulerice is not a first-time offender. Nine years ago, in an act of random violence, Boulerice turned around for no apparent reason and slashed an opposing player in the face. The player went into convulsions on the ice and suffered numerous injuries, including a Grade 3 concussion that resulted in seizures and a blood spot on his brain.
Boulerice, meanwhile, was charged with criminal assault and later pled no contest to the reduced charge of aggravated assault and received 90 days probation. The conviction was later expunged from the record.
After all that, he still thought it would be a good idea to viciously crosscheck a guy in the neck. Does this sound to you like a guy who has learned his lesson?
One way to teach players such as Boulerice and Downie would be to treat them the same as repeat offenders when it comes to fining them. Perhaps that might teach them a lesson.
And this is where I believe the league has it backward.
Repeat offenders, chances are, will be more veteran players who have already played in the league for a number of years and have made more money. Chances are, the financial considerations for them are far less severe than they are for a younger player who might be on an entry-level deal and hasn’t built up his personal fortune yet.
Ken Campbell’s Cuts appears regularly only on The Hockey News.com. Want to get the inside edge from Ken himself? You can reach him at email@example.com.
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