Friday, January 25, 2008

Kovalchuk's Suspension

Suspensions in the NHL are often inconsistent. If a player is seen as an embarrassment to the league, who they would like to have go away, (such as Chris Simon) a player can expect to have the book thrown at them for any offense. If a player is a star who will make a difference in games that are important to NHL marketing (such as Chris Pronger in either of his playoff suspensions last season) he can expect a much more lenient suspension.

This problem was showcased again in Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers suspension. On Tuesday night, Kovalchuk viciously hit Michal Rozsival of the New York Rangers from behind. The hit drew a five minute boarding major and a game misconduct for Kovalchuk. If the NHL remained consistent with its current punishment standards, it would also have drawn a few game suspension (maybe 3-5 games) for Kovalchuk.

The problem is the Kovalchuk will be appearing in the NHL All Star Game this weekend. This is a game that will have several stars (Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg for example) missing due to injuries. Kovalchuk is one of the biggest talents who will be in the game. Until recently, he was leading the NHL in goals (he has recently been passed by Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals). He is the star of the All Star Game host Atlanta Thrashers and the NHL could not afford to keep him out of the game. Their only choice was to limit his suspension to one game (last night's return match with the Rangers). So the NHL did that. Kovalchuk received a lighter than usual punishment in order for him to remain eligible for the All Star Game.

My only question is what would have happened if the Kovalchuk incident happened last night? The NHL could not have turned around and suspended him for the All Star Game, but there were no further games in which to sit him out of. My cynical side believes that there would have been no announcement of a Kovalchuk suspension until after the game was over, thus allowing him to play in it and be suspended later. I think this Kovalchuk incident is an example of the way the NHL treats justice. Long suspensions are fine, unless they keep important players out of games that will be heavily marketed.

1) Yu make a very valid/true assessment of the state of the NHL's discipline system. Its two tiered.
2) We allude/discussed this very issue way back in October in 2 seperate blog posts
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