The Department of Player Safety (DOPS) has become an oxymoron.
What should be one of the most important sections of the NHL, has become its biggest joke. Players are suspended for minor contact that results in a penalty, but the opposing player never misses any game time. At the same time, a player can leave his skates, launch at a player with intent to injure and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DOPS) does nothing.
The DOPS is an accurate acronym for the department. If we add an “e” it becomes what they have become DOP(e)S. In the latest in a long list of atrocious decisions from the DOPS, repeat offender Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals was fined a measly $5,000 for punching two players in the head while both were lying on the ice and ending one of the players’ seasons (Rangers’ star Artemi Panarin).
The outcry from players, media, fans, and even one team has been scorching. No less than 100 articles can be found criticizing the DOPS. Radio shows and both professional and fan-based podcasts have addressed the issue. The sound wave created from this latest mishandling has been as loud as a sonic boom.
With all this bad press and the mounting pressure, you would think the league would take a second look at the Wilson incident?
It seems as if every person in the hockey universe heard that boom except the NHL.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has decided to turn a deaf ear to all the commotion. In fact, they even sent a $250,000 message that they are OK with the DOPS Wilson ruling. The New York Rangers – the team at the epicenter of this current storm – released a statement calling the head of the DOPS George Parros unfit to continue in his current role.
The New York Rangers Statement on the DOPS.
The Rangers called for the head of the DOPS to be fired and it cost them a quarter of a million dollars. The Rangers used free speech and Wilson used his fist. See the problem here? Call out the DOPS for “dereliction of duty” you get a $250,000 fine. Ruin a guy’s season and get a $5,000 fine. I am still scratching my head as I write that.
The Rangers played the next game against the Capitals. The New York players sent a loud message to the league as well. At :01 into the game, the starting line for the Rangers dropped the gloves. Three fights in just a second. In all, the game had six fights and 151 penalty minutes.
The Rangers players sent a loud “we are not happy” message to the league and the DOPS, yet the message went unheard.
What is even more egregious, New York Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich got a one-game suspension for a High Stick to Washington Capitals forward Anthony Mantha. In the video released by the NHL Dop(e)S, they use words to lessen the effect the Mantha had on the overall incident. Mantha was checked legally into the boards by Buchnevich. The fact that Mantha takes exception to the legal hit is almost overlooked.
NY Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich has been suspended for one game for High-sticking Washington’s Anthony Mantha. https://t.co/kriEzlo2FV— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 6, 2021
The DOP(e)S matter of factly states “that while Buchnevich actions may have been defensive” (YOU THINK??) he is not allowed to break the rules. This is just one more example of how broken the DOPS is. What is overlooked is Wilson Punched Buchevich in the head while he was lying on the ice in front of the net. The emotions were running high and Mantha took advantage of that.
Wilson gets a $5000 fine for a sucker punch to Buchevich, and Buchevich gets a one-game suspension for a cross check to the head while defending himself. Hey DOPS think you only fining Wilson 5 grand might of had something to do with how the ranger forward acted?
Just about every article out there says we need to fix the problem. I agree, but what is the real issue? Why are some players suspended, while others are just fined? Why are the fines as paltry as they are? Are there really any answers? I think there are and to find them we need to look at the problem from the 10000’ level. Let us not focus on the most recent case but the system as a whole.
I want to break it down to the most basic fibers and see which one can be changed to actually make the DOP(e)S no longer dopes.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
While many are blaming the DOPS, they are handcuffed just a bit. The CBA which is the contract between the Players Union and the League sets what fines can be issued for different infractions. Tom Wilson was fined the maximum about for roughing – the specific penalty he was assessed.
The majority of the complaints over social media and the podcast were based on the rather small amount of the fine. Wilson is earning $4.1 million this season with an Annual Average Value (AAV) of $5.16 million. The fine was less than .0009% of his AAV. Wilson needs to skate just under five minutes in a game to cover his fine.
Recently Florida Panther’s MacKenzie Weegar was also fined the maximum $5,000 for a high stick. The defenseman’s AAV is $3.25 million. His fine is .0015% of his AAV. While it is still not a big chip out of his wallet, he will have to skate for seven minutes to pay it off.
The fines are supposed to be punitive. They are supposed to make a player think twice out on the ice. Let’s break this down into a real-world situation. The fine in your state for going 15 miles over the speed limit is $250. For a person making $10 an hour, they would have to work 25 hours to cover the fine. This will make someone in your state make that wage think twice about speeding. The fine is 1.3% of their annual salary. The fine means more to them.
The CBA is set in stone for the next five years. It would be hard to get the players to change it. However, this is the right time to breach the subject. The players are upset about this. They wanted the league to act, and the league ignored them. The NHL could reverse some of the bad press if they talk to the players about amending the CBA to make the maximum fine a percentage of the player’s pay versus a set amount.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the maximum fine for roughing or high-sticking was set to 8% of a player’s AAV. Wilsons fine would now be $413,333.28. it would now take Wilson almost seven games to pay his fine. Weegar’s fine would be $260,000 and would also take the same seven(ish) games to pay it off. One more thing that can be done is a clause added that allows the commissioner and or a special panel to levy higher fines.
There is something like that in place now, but it has not been used that I could find. The Board of Governors can increase a fine or suspension. The iron is hot and now is the time to strike. The NHL and the Players could both repair so much damage with what in the long run is a simple move. Yes, I know it is a lot more complicated than that but really reaching out to the NHLPA is a simple move. The worst they can say is no and that would look bad on them.
This also goes back to the CBA just a bit. If a player is assessed a penalty, the DOPS must act according to the CBA. The on-ice officials have a tough job and are often criticized for their actions. I get it. I do, but there have been too many times where the official either does not call something or gives the wrong call.
Wilson should have been assessed a major and game misconduct for un-sportsman-like conduct. Why wasn’t he? The officials at the time were trying to break up a full scrum that had broken out in front of the net. It is quite possible that they did not see the punches that were thrown while players were laying defenseless face down on the ice.
I have been upset with the quality of officiating all season. Tim Peel, a former official who was suspended indefinitely by the league for stating he wants to get a team a penalty, highlights just one of the many things that are wrong with the system.
Players like to police themselves. While this has a few advantages, it also has one huge disadvantage. The thief is guarding the safe. The accountability factor is lost. Tom Wilsons Teammates stick up for him. Why? To be honest it is a great question. And one I almost find hard to answer. While I was in the Navy, I had shipmates who I did not like, nor would I ever want to lend a hand to help them on the ship. Off the ship, I would fight to the death for these people. They were my shipmates and in essence my family. I am guessing the NHL locker room is the same way.
The on-Ice officials must do a better job, especially around the crease. The Solution I think a fifth official, who is not on the ice but in the arena watching the game and with a monitor. Something similar to an NHL replay official. Now I know this is going to get a lot of resistance, but hear me out. The Replay official is there to help with Procedure calls. Hand pass, offsides, puck out of play, things of that nature. He could also review a scrum like the one between the Capitals and Rangers.
The first thing coming to your mind is we already have something like this in place, it is called “The War Room.” Yes, and it is in Toronto. The official is watching many games and they are not getting in an arena feel. The feel of the game is so important, especially this season. Playing so many games on back-to-back nights. The emotion of the game is so important. In fact, it is just as important as the game itself.
A game against the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadians in the regular season does not have the same feel or emotion as a playoff game between the two. Both games will be emotionally charged but the stakes are not the same. All these factors need to be taken into account. A person in the war room in Toronto is not able to do that. A fifth in arena off-ice official may be able to catch that extra punch or whack with the stick that escalated everything.
The Department of Player Safety DOPS.
This is the big one, and I could write a book on this. Let’s try to break it down just a bit first. The DOPS is playing with the same set of rules but not applying them the same. On NHL.com there is a FAQ for the DOPS. One of the questions is, “Why is injury taken into account when deciding Supplemental Discipline? And what other factors are taken into account?”
Per Article 18.2 in the CBA between the NHL and the NHLPA: “… In deciding on Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct, the following factors will be taken into account:
(a) The type of conduct involved: conduct in violation of League Playing Rules, and whether the conduct is intentional or reckless, and involves the use of excessive and unnecessary force. Players are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
(b) Injury to the opposing Player(s) involved in the incident.
(c) The status of the offender and, specifically, whether the Player has a history of being subject to Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct. Players who repeatedly violate League Playing Rules will be more severely punished for each new violation.
(d) The situation of the game in which the incident occurred, for example: late in the game, lopsided score, prior events in the game.
(e) Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.”
Reading over this it seems as if the DOPS would be covered giving Wilson a suspension since the Rangers’ Panarin season was ended due to Wilson’s actions. Again this is a complicated subject that may or may not have simple solutions.
The biggest thing missing from the DOPS? Transparency!!!
I looked all over to find who was on the board but could not. The DOPS twitter site only posts videos when a player is suspended. They do not post a video or explain why a player is only fined or why they did not act on a particular play.
Montreal’s Joel Edmundson has been fined $1,000, for a dangerous trip on Toronto’s John Tavares.— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 9, 2021
I wrote an article earlier in the season after Vegas’s Mark Stone leveled the Blues Tyler Bozak, costing him 20 games. The hit was clearly behind the play and was after Stone threw a punch that did not connect. The league said nothing. This would have been a great time to explain why this hit was not reviewed. The league spoke to St Louis GM Doug Armstrong and he spoke to the media. I only wonder what got lost in translation.
This one is simple and in two parts.
First. Dissolve the DOPS. It is not working. Nothing is almost better than what we have now.
Second: Replace them with a third-party system that is not responsible to the league alone. The third party would be hired by both the NHL and the NHLPA and it would take both to either remove them or renew the contract. This new entity or the new DOPS would be trained by all parties involved. The officials, the players, and the league. They would also have a representative in the arena for each game. This person would not only be watching the game but also get the feel for the game. This person could report to a board about what they saw and what they felt the severity of it was. Second, the transparency we all want and need.
The new third-party DOPS would report on all incidents. If they looked at it, they would release a video stating why action was or was not taken. This would give everyone a sense that the same rules are being applied across the league.
The NHL and NHLPA Must Work Together
I know this is not the be-all-end-all. But they are suggestions that just might get the conversation started. Once started who knows where it will lead. But if all parties involved want a better game this is the best place to start. The DOPS has not represented the game, the league, or the fans the way they were supposed to. Starting from scratch just might work. or till the DOPS screws up again
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing