Spin… That… Wheel!
The NHL Department of Player Safety (DoPS) has had its fill of the Blue Jackets in the early goings of this season. Captain Nick Foligno was charged a 5 minute major and 10-minute game misconduct on Saturday, November 9, for charging Pierre Edouard Bellemare. The DoPS handed Foligno a three-game suspension for this hit. This is Foligno’s first suspension in his 858 game career. He has been fined once before while playing for the Ottawa Senators. Foligno made an open-ice hit on Patrick Dwyer on October 14, 2010.
Since the suspension has been announced, there have been mixed reviews of the length of the suspension. When placed in a vacuum, the suspension makes sense. The NHL made a point to acknowledge that they would be taking hits to the head more seriously. They brought on retired enforcer George Parros to the DoPS in September of 2016 and promoted him to the head of the department in 2017. Parros is a unique combination of physical play, fighting, and zero supplemental discipline. It felt like a turning point for the NHL. Parros knew how to protect his teammates, play with an edge, but never cross the line. He’s a player best known for fights like this, rather than goals.
However, the inconsistency of the DoPS is irritating to some and infuriating to others. DoPS’ suspension lengths have become a meme and been likened to a wheel being spun to determine the length.
There was never an argument that Foligno did not deserve a suspension. The DoPS stated that the suspension was because it was elbowing, Bellemare was injured on the play, and that Foligno did not have a prior history. DoPS also acknowledged that Foligno extended his elbow to brace for contact or avoid the hit. Foligno stated that he hadn’t intended to injure Bellemare and “felt sick to my stomach when I saw that I hit him in the head.” The suspension for a remorseful player committing a negligent hit with the head being the principal point of contact should be three games.
The inconsistency of the suspensions does not feel right. One week ago, Milan Lucic sucker-punched an unsuspecting Kole Sherwood and proceeded to hammer fist Sherwood on the ice. This purposeful and malicious act warranted a mere two-game suspension to a player with history. This is the second time Lucic has been suspended since 2016. He has also been fined for punching unwitting players. Lucic was assessed two minor penalties for roughing and Sherwood was assessed one minor penalty for slashing. Lucic stated that “You’ve got to defend your teammates or you kind of get walked over,” in response to his suspension.
In the round two matchup between the Blue Jackets and the Bruins last year, Charlie McAvoy hit Josh Anderson in the head with his shoulder. McAvoy was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for an illegal check to the head. McAvoy went to defend himself to the DoPC stating that by “…really slowing it down and watching it and seeing how his body changed there at the last second, opened up. It was tough. I was trying to make a hockey play.” McAvoy was given a one-game suspension. This was McAvoy’s first instance of supplemental discipline. It is worth noting that the DoPS has stated that suspensions with playoff games count as multiple regular-season games.
Earlier in the same round, Brad Marchand punched an unsuspecting Scott Harrington in the back of the head while the referees were separating other players. Harrington was not injured on the play and Marchand received no penalty on the ice. While Harrington was not injured, Marchand watched the officials and waited for their heads to be turned before punching Harrington. Marchand has been suspended six times for a total of 19 games. He has been fined five times totaling $24,500. The punch was inconsequential and for the most part, harmless; however, or a league that is trying to come down on head injuries, ignoring intentions such as this is not a good look. Give a rat– excuse me, a mouse a cookie and what not.
In the first round between the Blue Jackets and the Lightning last year, Nikita Kucherov hit Markus Nutivaara into the boards. Kucherov was assessed a five-minute major and 10-minute game misconduct penalty for boarding. The DoPS gave Kucherov a one-game suspension. This was Kucherov’s first suspension. He has been fined two separate times totaling $10,000 for roughing and tripping.
Kucherov told The Athletic about the hit, “That was something where emotion got over me… That was definitely stupid by me. I didn’t mean to hurt the guy or do anything bad. It’s a learning process. I know from now on I can’t do that stuff (especially) in the playoffs. I want to make sure I’m at the top of my game.” “That stuff” being tripping a player and “not meaning to hurt the guy” by hitting that defenseless player’s head into the boards at the end of a game you’re losing 5-1.
During a regular-season game between the Blue Jackets and the Canadiens last year, Andrew Shaw hit recently acquired Adam McQuaid in the head. Shaw was assessed a two minute minor for interference. The DoPS decided not to have a hearing for Shaw’s hit; therefore, no supplemental discipline, including a fine, could be assessed. Shaw has been suspended three times in the past for a total of four regular-season games and three preseason games. He has been fined once for $5000 for using a homophobic slur.
In the first round between the Blue Jackets and the Capitals in 2018, Tom Wilson launches Alex Wennberg into the boards. Wilson was assessed a two minute minor for charging. The NHL reviewed the hit but decided against pursuing any supplemental discipline. He had been suspended twice during the season for similar hits. In response to the review of his hit, he said, “I’m just trying to finish my check there. I’m obviously not trying to take a penalty. That cost us the game. That’s a critical moment. I’ve got to be better and maybe pass up on that hit. We’ve got the lead there so maybe a big hit is not needed. It’s playoffs. Trying to finish your checks, and unfortunately, I took a penalty. They capitalized on a couple of their opportunities there in the third period.”
Wilson was suspended four times for a total of two preseason games, 18 regular-season games, and three playoff games. He was fined once in his career for $2403.67, the maximum under the current CBA. It remains unclear why the DoPS decided not to call a hearing on the hit. Wilson’s shoulder clearly hits Wennberg’s head, he leaves his feet prior to contact and takes four strides prior to the hit.
In a 2016 regular-season game between the Blue Jackets and the Hurricanes, Brad Malone makes contact with Nick Foligno’s head. Malone went for a hit on Foligno and clipped Foligno in the head with his shoulder. There was no penalty on the play. The NHL reviewed the hit but decided against pursuing any supplemental discipline. Malone paid up later in the game via fight with Brandon Dubinsky, the next day via a fight with Jared Boll, and via fight with Nick Foligno a couple of months later. It is important to note that Parros was not working for DoPS at this time. Malone has never been suspended or fined.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” — Søren Kierkegaard
In the defense of every player named, they can try to understand their actions while looking backward. All we can do is live forwards and hope that DoPS can do better from understanding backward. Nick Foligno’s hit on Bellemare deserved supplemental discipline. A player simply cannot be that careless when going for a large open-ice hit. The argument that Foligno should have gotten off scot-free never existed. Three games is an acceptable length for the severity of the hit, the head contact, and the injury to Bellemare. What is infuriating is the inconsistency with which hearings and supplemental discipline are handed out.
If the league wants to be taken seriously, they need to become consistent in handing out supplemental discipline, or the beatings will continue until morale improves. Spin the wheel of justice.
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