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Why the NHL needs standardized suspensions

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The NHL Players’ Association has been taking a beating lately over the fact that it represented Patrick Kaleta in the appeal of his 10-game suspension. It leaves the perception that the PA cares only about the guy who is losing money and not the victim of the miscreant behavior.

But here’s the thing. First, the NHLPA has a legal duty to represent the interests of its members to ensure they receive due process when they’re being disciplined. But even more, the NHLPA didn’t take on Kaleta’s case because it thinks he’s an angel. It did so because there are enormous inconsistencies in the penalties that are handed out for head shots. And if the Kaleta case has proved anything, it’s that the NHL desperately needs a system of standardized suspensions. Brendan Shanahan already has the most difficult job in hockey and the lack of any uniformity in suspensions makes it that much harder.

To wit: Kaleta received a 10-game suspension for his illegal hit to the head of Jack Johnson, a hit that was egregious and vicious, but didn’t result in an injury. Shanahan explained that Kaleta’s suspension history and status as repeat offender factored into the 10-game ban.

But go back to September, 2011 and watch James Wisniewski’s head shot on Cal Clutterbuck. On that hit, Shanahan noted Wisniewski’s well-documented history of fines and suspensions, as well as the fact that it was a clear head hit to a vulnerable player. But Wisniewski received only eight games for his suspension (plus the three remaining pre-season games, which is nothing). Then a couple of months later, Andy Sutton of the Edmonton Oilers, another repeat offender with a laundry list of fines and suspensions, received an eight-game ban for a hit that was both a head shot and a charge during which he left his feet.

So why does Kaleta get 10 games for doing basically the same thing under the same circumstances as Wisniewski and Sutton two years ago? Because while nobody can suggest the NHL doesn’t examine these kinds of things from every angle and make the most informed decision possible, there is far too much subjectivity involved in it. If the league basically drew a definitive line and outlined what the penalties were for things such as head shots, charging and stick fouls, fans wouldn’t be playing Suspension Roulette - Canada’s second favorite pub game after Who Will Make the Olympic Team?

And who knows? Perhaps if the suspensions were long enough and players had an idea beforehand what kind of time they’d be doing, they might think twice before drilling their elbows into opponents’ heads. In fact, if you’re looking for some leadership in this area, the NHLPA actually has provided some. The union has long appealed to the league to have standardized suspensions, but the league has resisted.

Because that would require the league to be decisive and unwavering, something it has never, ever done very well.

• Speaking of elbows to the head, John Scott is up next on Brendan Shanahan’s docket for his act of concussing Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

But Scott isn’t the only one who should be called on the carpet for his behavior. Sabres coach Ron Rolston, who is coming under fire for being way over his head, displayed exactly why he is going to be fired very soon.

According to a website called www.shiftchart.com, Scott had six shifts before he tried to decapitate Eriksson. What is also interesting is that for each and every one of those shifts, the Bruins responded by having Shawn Thornton on the ice. But early in the third period, Bruins coach Claude Julien had Thornton out for a shift and despite having the last change, Rolston kept Scott on the bench. Then with less than 15 minutes left in a game in which the Sabres trailed by two goals, Rolston decided it was a good time to put arguably the league’s least talented player on the ice against the Bruins’ top line.

Scott argued vociferously on his coach’s behalf, basically saying it was ludicrous to suggest Rolston put him out there to hurt someone. But the evidence is damning indeed. That shift by Scott was the first one of the night where Thornton did not accompany him onto the ice and, in fact, was timed to take place immediately after Thornton finished his shift.

At a crucial time in a game in which the Sabres still could have come back, isn’t it just a little curious that Rolston saw fit to put Scott out against a unit that included Eriksson, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand at forward and Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug on defense?

Who knows what these guys are thinking? Was Rolston trying to send a message? Are the Sabres still upset at the Bruins for Milan Lucic running Ryan Miller almost two years ago? Whatever the case, there is no sport that revels in this ridiculous kind of thing more than hockey does, and players will keep getting carted off the ice on stretchers until both players and coaches stop the culture of violence.

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