It's time that NHL's punishments fit the crimes

It's time that NHL's punishments fit the crimes
November 1, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Mike from Attleboro -- the leading contributor to Michael Felger's old mailbag and one of Felger's favorite callers to his radio show -- is now contributing occasional pieces to His latest piece is in response to the NHL's seven-game suspension of the Sabres' John Scott.

Seven Games.

That is probably how long John Scott’s NHL career should have lasted based on what he brings to the table as a hockey player, and that is being about six and half games too generous.  Over a 187-game career Scott has managed one goal and four assists in mercifully limited ice time.  To put that in proper perspective Chris “Flounder” Bourque had a goal and three assists during his underwhelming 16-game pledge period with the Bruins last season.  

Scott makes career pugilist/recovering milk crate addict Jody Shelley look skilled, something George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Chris Angel combined couldn’t pull off.  To call Scott a goon with no talent is an affront to the no-talent goons who used to patrol the boards of yesterday’s NHL, but are now antiquated and more or less extinct in today’s faster less violent pro game.

Seven games is also the length of the suspension this pathetic waste of an NHL roster spot received for concussing Bruin Loui Eriksson with a blatant and vicious head shot last week when the B’s faced the moribund and hopeless Sabres in Buffalo.  Scott was apparently saved from a more severe punishment by the fact that he had no prior history of supplemental discipline.  Coincidentally it also represented one of the first times in Scott’s career someone wasn’t able to skate around him, but unfortunately that wasn’t considered in the ruling.

When you think about the impact losing Eriksson has on the Bruins, vs. the impact of losing Scott to the Sabres, who are already in full fire sale mode, the punishment hardly fits the crime.  In fact, not having to give an obelisk with a Sherwood like Scott a semi-regular shift actually makes the Sabres better.

If a seven-game time out is the best Brendan Shannahan and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety can do with today’s rules, this represents the point in time where the rules need to change.

It’s time for the teams themselves to pay a high price too.  And I can think of no better or more deserving place to start that with Buffalo.

It was ok when the Buffalo Sabres were a terrible NHL embarrassment on their own time.  In fact it was occasionally entertaining.  I dare you to look at Tyler Myers’ contract and not laugh.  But when their organizational incompetence starts to affect the rest of the league, not to mention the Bruins, it’s time to take action.

The dirty, blind side hit that skating clinic drop out Scott unleashed on Eriksson marked a culmination of what has been a two-year odyssey of overreaction and mismanagement mixed with a dash of an utter lack of Hockey IQ by Sabres GM Darcy Reiger.

Many knuckle dragging Sabres fans/failure aficionados were gleefully celebrating the hit by Scott on Eriksson as karma for Milan Lucic turning Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender into a giant airborne 5 hole in November of 2011. While these cretins are imbecilic for comparing a collision between a forward & a goalie contesting a potential breakaway and a talentless cone delivering a deliberate headshot, they correctly identify the genesis of this incident.

Reiger’s reaction to the Lucic/Miller collision wasn’t to double down on speed and skill, the two elements that had repeatedly burned the Bruins in past match ups with the Sabres.  It was to get less skilled and significantly dirtier.  They parted ways with an 80-point player like Derek Roy in exchange for on-ice war criminal and current Captain Steve Ott.  They sent a player like Paul Gaustad who had the functional toughness that today’s game demands packing and replaced him with the functionless Scott.  And Reiger re-signed the currently suspended Patrick Kaleta to a three-year contract. The plan from Reiger was obvious: let Ott and Kaleta, a repeat offender with a rap sheet so long he should be frozen in ice next to Simon Phoenix, not skating on it, run amok against the Bruins and when someone tries to settle the score with them, have Scott pay the tab.    

The results of Reiger’s managerial folly have left the Sabres a league laughing stock with two currently suspended players whose absence actually makes the team better.

Normally a fan base wouldn’t stand for a Cup Contender devolving into a primordial pool of suck, but Buffalo fans are a special breed.  Inhabiting the pro sports equivalent of Mordor, a life engulfed in epic soul crushing defeats has left them twisted and mutated so things like fabricated “State Championships” and the antics of Scott, Ott & Kaleta are celebrated.

When you understand the ingrained dysfunction of the team and its fans, simple suspensions are no longer enough to change the culture they have fostered.   

First the NHL should mandate that any suspensions also coincide with a loss of a roster spot for the duration of the suspension.  

So for the Sabres, Kaleta’s 10-game ban and Scott’s 7-game hiatus would have them dressing one or two players less for every game penalized depending on when the suspensions overlap.  Why allow a team that employs a criminal element to simply replace it with more of the same, or in Buffalo’s case, add actual NHL talent? Make them play with a shorthanded roster and suffer the consequences.     

Second and most importantly, any match penalty infractions should be subject to future arbitration and possible compensation.  

In the past the NHL has penalized teams for tampering with another team’s players outside of free agency, most notably Scott Stevens in 1994. The New Jersey Devils received $1.4 million dollars, a first round draft pick as well as future rights to swap 1st round picks from the St. Louis Blues for reportedly tampering with Stevens during the time when he was still under contract with New Jersey.

If giving a player under another team’s control a piece of paper is worth that type of compensation, what should giving another team’s player a potentially career-altering concussion warrant in punitive damages?

If you’re a GM like Reiger and you willfully and knowingly chose to employ and give significant ice time to players with histories like Ott and Kaleta, you and your team should be held liable when that player crosses the line once again. Much like the case was with Stevens, it would take time to adjudicate this, but the threat of losing cash picks or players to an arbiter’s ruling would scare most teams straight.  This could finally be a way that a one trick pony like a Pat Kaleta is going to be eliminated from the game as well as forcing change from players who can contribute in other ways like Raffi Torres and Matt Cooke.  Either they change their game to be more than attrition on skates, or they go away as continued employment would put too much of a team’s future assets at risk.

This may seem over the top and reactionary at best and a pipe dream at worst, but something has to be done to not only make players respect each other more but force teams and their front offices to do the same.  It’s time that the league made choosing to employ players that have little to no NHL skill or relevance like Scott and Kaleta, cost their teams more than the damage they repeatedly inflict.