A New Era In NHL Discipline: Shanahan and the Next NHL CBA

This season, the NHL has a new Discipline Czar in Brendan Shanahan. After a night featuring some early dirty hits, he reacted swiftly in handing out suspensions to Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley and Calgary Flames forward Pierre-Luc "PL3" Létourneau-Leblond. Not only that, but Shanahan brought in a new way of announcing the suspensions by delivering videos with detailed explanations. This level of transparency was something that that Colin Campbell never had. These changes are showing a huge amount of improvement in the league that Campbell never seemed to deliver.

That being said, there is a new CBA coming for the 2012-13 season and beyond. This CBA will no doubt focus on how discipline is handled for these type of his. If the NHL is really serious about eliminating dirty plays in the game, there are many things that the next CBA can address. This article will focus on a few detailed areas that should help keep players safe while also keeping the game enjoyable for fans. There will be three points of focus in this piece: First- injury management, especially with concussions, second- headshots/boarding/other on ice penalties, third-instigation and fighting.

Before this discussion begins, it will be assumed that the NHL keeps both a salary cap and floor in place and the current rules regarding Long Term Injured Reserve and Injured Reserve will still apply.

In order to keep player's safe the NHL can adopt a policy from the NFL regarding concussions. This policy is simple, any player in the NHL who is diagnosed with a concussion must be cleared by an independent concussion specialist before returning to game action or practice. These doctors would be employed solely by the NHL and operate with complete autonomy regarding concussions. This would guarantee that players with concussions do not return too soon and harm themselves or prematurely end their careers. These same rules would also apply to any player with any injury who is placed on Long Term Injured Reserve for any reason. Concussions aren't the only bad injuries out there, while brain injuries are horrible, so are spinal and nerve conditions like the one that forced former Flyers Defenseman Mike Rathje into retirement. Also, conversely, if a player is deemed unable to ever return to action, it would prevent cap circumvention by using Long Term Injured Reserve like the situations of Marc Savard and Ian Laperriere for the Bruins and Flyers respectively.

Secondly the NHL needs to take a stand with regards to headshots/boarding/charging that puts more accountability on the player delivering the illegal check and the team who employs them. For this, there is a simple solution, for all repeat offenders, make their fines count against the cap. Per Exhibit 8 of the current CBA (Section 5, P. 270), suspended players who are considered "repeat offenders" affect a team's salary cap differently from "first-time offenders." A repeat offender is a player whose suspension is the second or more within 18 months.

To explain this, we will use the following example.

In an incident between Team A and Team B, Player X of Team A drives Player Z of Team B into the boards with an illegal check. Player X is a repeat offender under the definition of repeat offender as is suspended 5 games. Player X has a cap hit of 820,000 in this example.

Under the rules of a repeat offender fine, Player X would be fined $50,000 with his 5 game suspension. That's good, now let's improve it.

First: currently, suspended players come off the salary cap, end that. If a player is suspended, they count against the cap.

Second: now, make fines count against the daily spending limit. This basically means for the duration of the suspension, the players cap hit is doubled. That means that a team near the cap ceiling could in fact be pushed over if a player is suspended.

Per CapGeek: Pittsburgh has ~1.5M in cap space right now. This would mean that if Matt Cooke (Cap hit of 1.8M) were suspended right now, the Penguins would be in violation of the salary cap. This would mean the Penguins, in order to clear a current Matt Cooke suspension, would need to lose Matt Cooke AND one other player for the duration of Cooke's suspension. This could lead to the Penguins losing players on waivers or being forced to ice an incomplete roster. How long would Pittsburgh put up with Cooke knowing this could happen?

Third: Make a team with a suspended player who is a repeat offender play with 17 skaters for the duration of the suspension. This one will have a huge impact on coach's decisions on who to suit up. No coach would want to go into a game, especially near playoff time, down a man on the bench. With this one rule, how do you think Dan Bylsma would react to Matt Cooke? Or Chicago's Coach Q to Daniel Carcillo? Or Peter Laviolette in Philly with Zac Rinaldo and Jody Shelley?

Fourth: For team's that are near the salary floor like the Islanders, make fines also count against the salary floor. So if a team's suspension were to push them under the limit, force them to acquire (and pay for) other players. If a team were to fall under the salary floor, a lottery would be held (not unlike the draft lottery) giving a team permission to have the floor team either: 1) Take on a buyout cap hit or re-entry waiver cap hit(s) and pay of equal value or greater or 2) take on a contract from another team via trade or 3) penalize draft picks based on RFA compensation charts. For instance for the Avalanche, who are currently about 900K over the salary floor, were to lose Matt Hunwick (cap hit 1.55) to a repeat offender suspension, the Av's would be under the floor by about 600K. To make back this 600K they could either pay off another team's re-entry waiver hits or buyout payouts of equal or greater value, or they can forfeit the draft picks based on if an RFA was offered Matt Hunwick's salary. Since Hunwick is making 1.55M against the cap this season, the compensation would be a 3rd round draft pick in the next draft. Should a team be lacking the necessary compensatory picks to forfeit, under this system the penalty would go up a bracket until a bracket is found that a team can afford, should a team have 0 draft picks, then the next 4 first round picks (the top bracket penalty) that are available to a team would be used. If a player's RFA salary would have no compensation, then a team would give up a 4th round pick instead.

Finally: Instigation will be addressed with new penalties unique to instigation of fights. Coincidentally, this article is also proposing a slight modification to Rule 46.2 "Agressor"

To be clear, this article is not proposing the elimination of fighting, just a stricter usage of the rules regarding instigation in an effort to protect players who are jumped and forced to fight in a situation they did not put themselves in.

Both Instigation of Fights and Aggressor of Fights will be treated as the same infraction under this new proposed rule change. First, let's quote Rule 46.2 Aggressor exactly as it reads now currently in the NHL rule book.

46.2 Aggressor – The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant.

A player must be deemed the aggressor when he has clearly won the fight but he continues throwing and landing punches in a further attempt to inflict punishment and/or injury on his opponent who is no longer in a position to defend himself.

A player who is deemed to be the aggressor of an altercation shall be assessed a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct.

A player who is deemed to be the aggressor of an altercation will have this recorded as an aggressor of an altercation for statistical and suspension purposes.

A player who is deemed to be both the instigator and aggressor of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, a ten-minute misconduct (instigator) and a game misconduct penalty (aggressor).

Basically, the aggressor involves not stopping a fight when the referee orders it. When a referee calls this penalty the following penalties will be assesed under the new proposed rule change.

To illustrate how this works, let's use an aggression/instigator video of an incident from the 2009-10 season.

Per the score sheet, this is how Carcillo was penalized on the play.

14:33 PHI Daniel Carcillo served by Jon Kalinski : Cross checking  - 2  min
14:33 PHI Daniel Carcillo served by Jon Kalinski : Instigator  - 2  min
14:33 PHI Daniel Carcillo served by Jon Kalinski : Fighting (maj)  - 5  min
14:33 PHI Daniel Carcillo : Misconduct (10 min)  - 0  min
14:33 PHI Daniel Carcillo : Game misconduct  - 0  min


Under this proposal of rule changes, Carcillo's penalties would read as follows:

All penalties at 14:33 of Period 1 assessed to Dan Carcillo.

  1. 2 minute minor got Cross Checking. (This call stays the same as it's a minor penalty unrelated to the fight)
  2. 5 minute major for Instigation. (Under this rule change, instigation is now a major)
  3. 5 minute major for Fighting. (This is the same as the current rule system)
  4. Game Misconduct and Match Penalty (This is much stricter than the current system.)

Yes, this would lead to a 12 minute power play against the team Carcillo played for.

Now with that the following automatic supplemental discipline would be imposed on the offending player: 1 game suspension, $10,000 fine and automatically treated as repeat offender for any other supplementary discipline.

If a situation where both the aggressor and instigator are applied comes up, the offending player would receiver 5 majors (instigation, fighting, aggressor) and a game misconduct and be suspended 3 games (or more at the discretion of the league) and be fined a minimum $50,000 (same cap rules apply).

In the case of instigation or aggressor rules being applied, the fines and suspensions automatically count against the team's roster and salary cap situations as outlined earlier in this post.

There would also be a 3 strike policy for instigation and Rule 46.2 Aggressor that goes as follows:

Strike 1: 1 game suspension, team plays with 17 skaters, fines count against cap.

Strike 2: 10 game suspension, team plays with 17 skaters, fines count against daily cap spending limit for duration of regular season.

Strike 3: 1 calendar year ban for offending player, forfeit of salary for one year, team plays with 17 skaters for next 20 games, fines count against team salary cap multiplied by 3 for 1 calendar year.

Strike 4: Lifetime ban for guilty player, Team fined 4 times player's cap hit both in dollar value and against the cap for duration of players contract or end of next full regular season (whichever is longer), team forfeit's RFA based draft picks based on combined salary of player instigating and the player he jumped.

The idea behind these strict rules is that players will think twice because these rules are hopefully enough to keep players safe and allow for the game to be played. This is hockey, not an MMA card on ice.

What do you think?



George Prax's picture

Great blog Matt. I love what Shanahan has done so far but hopefully he doesn't stop doing it when the games start getting important. I like your new structure too, they have to get serious about this stuff, but the problem of course comes with implementation. It was easy for Shanahan on these two calls, but it's when the ref doesn't make the right call that his job's going to get difficult.