The NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DoPS) is a league entity responsible for conducting official reviews of unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as dangerous plays and hits that had the potential to, or resulted in an injury to a player. Where the DoPS is significantly deficient, is the fact that there is no public framework that dictates the minimum penalty an offender must serve for a specific infraction.
For example, if a player is called for targeting, there is no set minimum to how many games he will sit out regardless of being a first-time offender. In addition, if the illegal act results in an injury to a player, jeopardizing their season, this is not taken into consideration.
Recent suspensions for the Capitals are a demonstration to the necessity of a detailed template. One extremely controversial situation is the Garnet Hathaway suspension from last week. Hathway was given a three-game suspension for spitting on Anaheim Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson after a play was called dead by the referees. In contrast, Boston’s Brad Marchand was caught on multiple occasions licking opponents over the span of four seasons, yet received no punishment for the conduct.
There are specifications within the DoPS that single out spitting, however licking another player should be viewed as just as inappropriate. To further the situation, Marchand even laughed about his actions in an interview whereas Hathaway immediately apologized when asked during his post-game locker room interviews. Both players should have received disciplinary action, as both are familiar with the disciplinary process and the NHL has been attempting to show its efforts to eliminate these actions from the game.
Another situation outside the Capitals’ organization was Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby’s slash against Ottawa’s Marc Methot in March of 2017. Crosby was given no suspension (and wasn’t even penalized in the game) for nearly severing Methot’s finger, however hand slashes have resulted in suspensions on multiple occasions across the NHL. Methot ended up being unable to play for nearly a month, which further increased the Senators’ frustration for the lack of action from the DoPS towards Crosby.
Above all, the most commonly seen situations that have or should result in suspensions are illegal checks. For Caps fans, many can vividly recall Michael Kempny and T.J. Oshie leaving the 2019 playoff run early, receiving season-ending injuries caused by checking from behind into the boards. In both instances, both opposing players received minor penalties and no additional disciplinary action despite the fact that it ended another player’s season. Fans also remember their frustrations when [Capitals’ right wing] Tom Wilson checked the St. Louis Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist in September 2017, he was given a 20-game suspension (reduced by a few games by an arbitrator). Sundqvist sustained a concussion from the hit and was cleared to play within the three weeks.
Although the situations between each accused player in all three plays have different records with the DoPS, each should have been handled based on the severity of the hit and the injury to the player, then consider taking the repeated offender route. The department’s stated main goal is to keep the game as safe as possible. Yet in the case of the recent hit on Caps defenseman Radko Gudas by San Jose’s Evander Kane, Kane received only a $5,000 fine for the deliberate hit to the head. Kane is also a repeat offender within the NHL, including a recent suspension for abusing a referee.
The bottom line is that there needs to be strict guidelines created and publicly displayed as to how the DoPS will react in any blatant scenario that could be presented in a game. In the event a suspension is deemed necessary within these guidelines, the money that would be given to the assigned player for those missed games would be able to be deposited into the Players’ Emergency Fund. By enforcing clearer guidelines the DoPS could tailor each punishment fairly and transparently.
By: Madison Hricik