There’s a fair bit of irony in the fact that something of an uprising against the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come as the result of a ruling that was actually a pretty fair one. But that’s what happens when you determine the length of suspensions by spinning The Wheel of Justice. Or at least it seems that way.
Evander Kane absolutely deserved a three-game suspension for his elbow to the head of Neal Pionk Friday night. As the suspension video aptly pointed out, “Kane raises his arm, extends his elbow and drives it with force into Pionk’s head, knocking Pionk to the ice. This is elbowing.” It’s also a headshot, which has become a scourge on the game. Good call there.
But you can’t blame Kane for feeling as though he’s just received a speeding ticket after a police officer has watched him get passed by a half-dozen other cars. Six nights prior to Kane’s elbow, Lawson Crouse of the Arizona Coyotes caught Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins with a carbon-copy elbow to the head and received just a minor penalty for roughing. (Roughing? Huh?) And don’t get us started on the ridiculously light sentences Zdeno Chara received for crosschecking Brendan Gallagher in the throat and Zack Kassian received for trying to kick a player blade-first. Kane teed off on the DOPS and good on him for doing so. This is a body of the NHL that has lacked accountability for years. Having a high-profile player take it to task is exactly the kind of dialogue the game needs right now. The NHL will almost certainly fine Kane for his comments, but one can only imagine how good he felt getting that off his chest.
“There have been countless incidents of the same nature through this season and past seasons that have gone unsuspended or (un)fined,” Kane wrote. “No one person can tell you what is and isn’t a suspension in today’s game, it’s a complete guess. There is a major lack of consistency with NHL Department of Player Safety. From suspensions to appeal rights, it’s baffling to me how we as players agreed to this. You can’t continue to give some players a pass and throw the book at others.”
Kane has hit on so many things with that statement, it will be hard to address them all. But he’s absolutely right. The system for on-ice discipline in the NHL is broken. Badly. It’s not completely the fault of George ‘The Violent Gentleman’ Parros and DOPS, but it certainly doesn’t help that they are simply not very good at their jobs. If these men were in any other line of work, their inconsistent behavior and performance would have gotten them fired a long time ago. Much of it begins with the culture of hockey and the league’s tolerance, nay endorsement, of this kind of play. It’s that thinking that led the league to think it would be a good idea to install a director of DOPS whose most redeeming quality as a player was his ability to punch other players in the face and one who, in retirement, was running an apparel company called Violent Gentlemen that produced red ball caps inscribed with: “Make Hockey Violent Again.”
And it’s also a good thing that Kane brought the players into this because they’re as culpable as their employers. First, they talk the talk about living by some kind of nebulous code, then drill their union brothers or stick them in the face with no hesitation. Then you have posers such as Zack Kassian, who professes to be one of those honest guys who’s keeping the workplace safe for everyone. The only problem is it’s guys such as Kassian who cause the majority of the mayhem. It’s like the mafia boss shaking down the tomato stand guy for protection money, when the only protection that guy needs is from the mafia boss.
But where the NHL Players’ Association puts itself into the worst place is in the appeal process. It offers representation to the player being suspended, but none to the same dues-paying member who was violated. It’s ass-backward in so, so many ways.
But as Kane points out, all is not lost. In fact, he’s advocating for something we’ve been beating the drum about for years. “There has to be an outside third party making these decisions to remove the bias that transpires in this department,” Kane wrote. “None of this makes any sense.”
Hear, hear. The NHL would have you believe there’s nobody qualified to do this job who doesn’t have close ties to the game and, therefore, an inherent conflict. That’s ridiculous. That Parros has to go is undeniable. He’s had a worse year than any of the several coaches who have been fired this season. Much worse. And once that is done, it’s time for someone to fill that job with someone who has no ties to the NHL and does not blindly follow the culture of violence that undermines the game.
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked during the all-star festivities about complaints concerning Parros and DOPS, he provided a vociferous defense of both, saying, “they render the decisions they think are right.” Nobody is disputing that. They have integrity and character and work hard and all that other good stuff. But it is clear that ‘The Violent Gentlemen’ and his employees are completely out of touch when it comes to applying justice to on-ice violence. It is time for them to go and perhaps a revolt such as this one will be what starts that process.
But then again, knowing the NHL, it will probably prompt those who run things to dig in their heels more than ever just to prove to everyone how smart they are.
Carry on, then…
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