Reader’s Opinion: How To Improve The Lack Of Consistency In The NHL Department of Player Safety


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

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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8 Responses to Reader’s Opinion: How To Improve The Lack Of Consistency In The NHL Department of Player Safety

  1. Anonymous says:

    Transparency would certainly help. There is none right now.

  2. Diane Doyle says:

    They even have different departments doling out suspensions. Match penalties (such as Hathaway’s), which are “intent to injury” are determined by NHL Operations. And normal suspendable events by DoPS. Frankly, they should all be determined by DoPS. “Intent to injure” should be a DoPS matter.

  3. Jon Sorensen says:

    Yes🙌 They need a single governing body, with complete transparency. At least fans will know what’s going on, whether they agree or not.

    • Day One Caps Fan says:

      Quite the favorite topic for Day One — the Kangaroo Court and Betting Parlor of the odious Kommisar Gary Bettman. I prefer to concentrate on the sheer stupidity and dubiousness of doling out a twenty-game suspension (Tom Wilson) for an open-ice collision that would have been a perfectly acceptable hockey play for 95% of the NHL’s existence. And this was a lousy pre-season game. Bettman is a STAIN on the NHL and I hope I live long enough to see him get replaced by a real hockey man. Stodgy old bankers who have never played hockey (or any contact sport!) ought never get anywhere near the levers of NHL power.

      Diane D., Jon S., myself and probably others on the staff have watched live action from many of the NHL’s biggest brawls and collisions. I saw Claude Lemieux’s cheapo on Kris Draper in Spring 1996, the semi-Finals, in the famous event where Mr. Draper needed multiple weeks and surgeries to recover from the Mother of All Cheap Shots. Lemieux was assessed a paltry two-games for this, and he played later in the Finals and Avalache won The Cup.

      Compare that to 21 games for Dale Hunter’s from-behind clipping of the always saintly Pierre Turgeon. Better yet, my favorite all-time defenseman Scott Stevens (a pox on Abe Pollin for giving him away to STL for a song!) put career-compromising blows on many opponents, especially Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya. He rarely got either a suspension or a penalty. Such a hit today would engender howls for a lifetime ban.
      Authentic cheap shots have gone unpunished for many years in the NHL. Those hurting the Caps the most were 1) FLA Peter Worrell boarding of Jan Bulis which IMO ruined that forward’s career (and Worrell was a talentless goon). and 2) Cheech (Milan Lucic) boarding of Brian Pothier, who needed special glasses to continue his career from the eyesight damage he incurred from the outrageously cheap hit. Penalties and suspensions for these two mugs? Not much.

      Ovechkin was the King of open-ice hits as a younger player, but those events have largely been driven out of the game. Wilson’s open-ice crunch of PIT Aston-Reese didn’t get him too much time on the sidelines … but it should not have! It was a clean and sane hockey play, perhaps worth a Charging penalty. Brian Leetch NYR defenseman was the maestro of the Hip Check during his playing days, and more than twice he hip-checked an opponent into injury-land and a bunch of missed games.

      Yes it sure is uneven, the closed-door world of the new NHL DoPS, with arch-goon George Parros in participation. I wonder if he wears a black leather mask with a mace in his hands as he metes out punishment for wayward NHL hitters.

      PS All-time Favorite brawl: 1980 PHI vs WAS, the 6-1 Caps win, their first ever against Bobby Clarke’s Broad Street Bullies. So many fights and penalties that only a handful of players were left for the Third Period. Thanks to Channel 20 for televising! Right before Christmas that year. I thought it was a true franchise moment for the Caps, as they finally beat a perennial Stanley Cup contender, and didn’t look like the dreadful 1975 dud that Abe Pollin served up.

  4. Eric says:

    What might help along with specific guidelines is put in the rules that the League punishment of suspension for the infraction And if the player that was hurt the player that caused the injury is also missing the same amount of time On top of his suspension

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