DoPS | Consistently Inconsistent

barry trotz and orpik penalty

Photo: USA Today. Head Coach, Barry Trotz, discussing the 3-game suspension handed down to Orpik. Trotz implied that the decision by the DoPS was influenced by our current opponent, The Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL Department of Player Safety recently sentenced Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik to a three-game suspension after his hit on Olli Maata during Saturday’s match at Verizon Center.

It wasn’t a pretty hit, nor a legal one, and we’ve yet to see anyone suggesting that Orpik should have been let off without punishment. Orpik took responsibility for the hit, apologized, and made no attempt to justify his actions to the NHL.

However, Orpik’s suspension comes on the heels of numerous other DoPS hearings, each with extraordinarily varied results. Fans on all sides are justifiably angry at playoff punishments when they have no rhyme or reason, and no consistency.

Let’s take a look at a few of the latest hearings and their respective outcomes.

Oprik|Maatta

Most recently, we have Orpik’s 3 game suspension for a late headshot on Maatta in game 2 of the Pittsburgh series. It was an ugly hit, and it took Maatta out of the game. Pittsburgh doesn’t expect Maatta to return for Game 3, and Orpik has handled his sentence with the maturity and poise that we’ve regularly see from him.

Schenn|Oshie

Prior to Orpik’s suspension, Flyers’ Brayden Schenn was brought before the NHL and given a 3-game suspension for his hit on T.J. Oshie during Game 6 of the Flyers series. Of course, Schenn’s punishment has no impact on the Flyers’ quest for the Cup, which ended before his hearing. He’ll miss the first three games of the 2016-2017 season. Currently, the Flyers’ management is discussing an appeal of the decision.

Wilson|Sheary

Known for his ability to deliver one of the hardest hits in the league, our own Tom Wilson had his own DoPS hearing last week for kneeing Conor Sheary in Game 1 against Pittsburgh. He was fined $2,403.67, a relatively small fee compared to his salary. Considering the discriminatory treatment Wilson often seems to receive from game officials (it’s a rare day when penalties get called for tripping, slashing, checking, or otherwise brutalizing Wilson during play), the light sentence was a pleasant surprise for Caps’ fans, the team and their management.

Bellemare|Orlov

Prior to Wilson’s fine, Flyers’ forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was handed a one-game suspension for the violent hit that slammed our Orlov into the boards during Game 3 of the Flyers series. Orlov was extremely fortunate to avoid a concussion and/or a serious upper body injury. You may recall that following this hit, there was the ensuing dangerous and disgusting behavior exhibited by Flyers fans which may have overshadowed the severity of Bellemare’s hit. That said, the hit itself was not dissimilar to Orpik’s hit on Maatta, yet Bellemare’s 1 game suspension doesn’t seem consistent to Orpik’s 3 game suspension.

Pending: Letang|Johansson [See Update Below]

In game 3 of the current series against the Penguins, Marcus Johansson left the game at 15:41 of the first period as a result of a hit by Kris Letang. The hit was late and to the upper body/head area of Johansson.

Letang received a 2-minute minor for the hit. Johansson did return to the game. We shall see if this hit is reviewed by the DoPS, and if it is, what type of penalty Letang will receive – this decision may prove to be significant at this point in the series, where the Pens lead the Caps, 2 games to 1. Mike Milbury’s comments were interesting to note: On Brooks Oprik: “He’s a predator.” on Kris Letang: “He lost his cool.”

Update: DoPS punishment to Kris Letang was a one game suspension. Yet again, another inconsistent ruling.

So, does the DoPS have a rhyme or reason as to how penalties, fines and or suspensions are determined? They don’t appear to have a solid structure to base their decisions or is this inconsistency part of their decision-making process?

It’s unlikely the Department is going to tell us why they’ve decided to hand out such mismatched penalties this playoff season – but why not? Shouldn’t there be consistency in their rulings? And shouldn’t there be clarity so that everyone understands the decision-making process?

The NHL has acknowledged that the DoPS is trying to ensure the safety of the NHL players, and I think we all can agree that keeping the players safe is of the utmost priority.

department of player safety

What players, teams and fans are confused and downright angry about is the inconsistency in the punishments.

We’ve heard speculation that if the DoPS starts giving out consistent sentences, teams and coaching staffs will know exactly what to expect from an illegal hit, and this may become part of their game strategy. Game play may change, but rather than avoiding reckless potential penalties altogether, teams may decide that there are opportunities where the benefit of a “bad” hit and the possible positive game outcome may outweigh the consequences of the penalty. But I think that most team’s management is onboard with the mission of the DoPS and the health and well-being of all NHL players.

We think all teams and their players deserve to be treated fairly and consistently. Most all of us will agree that teams and their respective players deserve to be treated equally when called up for a safety hearing. Currently, the lack of consistency, which appears to almost be part of the DoPS policy is the norm. It appears to be completely acceptable for the Department to punish one player more harshly than another for any number of prejudicial reasons. We believe that the DoPS needs to also be transparent in the decision-making process and procedures that are followed when determining their punishments.

Teams deal with enough subjectivity from refs on the ice (which is another issue all together); players, coaching staff and fans should all be able to expect a fair and consistent outcome when a player is given a hearing. This seems like a reasonable request and expectation.

With Orpik out for the next 3 games, the Caps will be calling upon the rest of their defenders to step up against Pittsburgh. Given Orpik’s long-term injury in the regular season,  we know we can be successful with those defense-men on our roster. Let’s look forward to see what Orlov, Weber, and Chorney will bring to the game!

Chime in with your thoughts on DoPS. Do you think we can bring a resolution to better ensure consistency in these situations? We want to hear your thoughts.

By Jessica Hall

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1 Response to DoPS | Consistently Inconsistent

  1. jralexandria says:

    It seems to me that whenever there is an illegal hit, the penalties should be the same – without having to gauge the different impacts. Make all illegal hits a 3 game (or whatever) suspension, without attempting to compare the results of the impact. Such a consistent ruling should have a positive impact on the game, and might reduce the criticism of NHL and the NBC Sports announcers for their seemingly apparent prejudices.

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