Gallagher: Shea Weber fine again highlights NHL’s flawed discipline
Paltry $2,500 punishment for Nashville Predator after Zetterberg hit
Once again the NHL has caused a storm of indignation from the sports media for its failure to do the obvious when it declined to suspend Shea Weber on Thursday for ramming the head of Henrik Zetterberg WWE-style into the end glass Wednesday night.
This time, the lame justification was the fact that Zetterberg was not injured on the play, although how Brendan Shanahan purports to know this already is a mystery because concussion symptoms can manifest themselves several days after the trauma.
Then there was the telephone hearing conducted by the league over Byron Bitz’s hit on Kyle Clifford, the result of which was the two-game suspension to the Vancouver forward.
And while that suspension is perfectly reasonable given the hit, the exercise of these hearings is nothing more than a laughable waste of time in many cases, just as the Duncan Keith hearing was when the league was trying to determine the length of suspension due the Chicago defenceman for his hit on the still-incapacitated Daniel Sedin.
You will remember that, on announcing the five games for Keith, Shanahan inferred his hit was not premeditated, the implication being that the suspension would have been much longer had it been.
He appears to have concluded lack of premeditation based solely on Keith’s word when he said: “Regardless of Keith’s assertion that the intent on this play was to impede Sedin’s progress as opposed to a retaliation for an earlier hit ...”
But how did this Department of Player Safety hearing determine that it was not premeditated?
Was there an attempt to place Keith under oath and a cross-examination undertaken? One cannot imagine that having much success over the phone. Was there an attempt on the part of the league to determine whether his words were credible?
Henrik Sedin spoke openly to the media after the game of things that were said on the ice after Sedin’s initial hit on Keith, perhaps indicating premeditation.
But no attempt was made to speak to either Henrik or Daniel Sedin before or during this hearing process to find out their version of what was said. It appears they accepted Keith’s assertion it was not premeditated merely because it was convenient to do so.
It certainly wasn’t through any attempt to find otherwise. The process is clearly flawed, just like some, perhaps many, of the league’s alleged “investigations.”
Is there any wonder the NHLPA would like some changes in this disciplinary procedure, a desire the NHL has either steadfastly ignored or is holding in reserve as a major bargaining chip in some future Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players?
The league could very easily put an end to all of this controversy and abuse it takes on these matters by simply putting these decisions into the hands of an independent three-man committee, which would operate at arm’s length from the league and conduct real hearings and investigations.
One person could be appointed by the league, one by the NHLPA and a third could be mutually agreed upon by both. That three-man committee could make all disciplinary decisions and, while there may still be controversy, the league could wash its hands of the fallout and not have to worry about what people are thinking as to which owner’s back is being scratched or which team or market is being shown favouritism.
The bottom line here is that the league would rather put up with all the caterwauling from the media and its attendant suspicion rather than relinquish control of these issues.
And that begs the question: Why? What is so vitally important about controlling player discipline that makes it more valuable than having the decisions above and beyond reproach? What makes it more important than the complete and total reality and therefore appearance of fairness?
Whatever the answer to that question and the resulting decision of the league to stay this noisy and stormy course, it’s shortsighted.
As long as there exists both this issue along with the ongoing uneven performance of the on-ice officials, this league will be short in the integrity department and condemned to its lesser status among North American sports.
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