Hockey Podcast: NHL’s Player Safety Debate

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Hello, I’m Trevon Couser, and it is October 15th, 2018. Today we will be talking about player safety in the NHL. In this podcast, I will give you facts on the Department of Player Safety and the debate on fighting in the NHL. You will decide how they are doing based on your belief. The standard range of salaries for the Department of Public Safety varies quite a bit, actually, ranging from $27,448 to $69,968 a year. So, what exactly does the department do?

Well, The Department of Player Safety observes every NHL game from a unique video room built at the NHL headquarters in New York City. This room contains about 20-25 high-tech video monitors that can stream both away and home broadcasts of every game in the NHL. When the department believes a play requires more of a review, it uses editing software to edit the play to a clip and all angles of replays that are on hand.

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The clip is then emailed to all Department personnel within minutes. Even if the referees did not initially call a penalty, discipline could be assessed to any player, regardless of whether or not the play was penalized by an official on the ice. A hearing can usually include the offending player, the player’s general manager, a number of members of the NHLPA, the player’s agent, and senior members of the Department of Player Safety. The NHL hosts these hearings so the player, his agent, and other people involved can explain the play in question.

Before and during the hearing, no decisions are made on supplemental discipline until the player is given the opportunity to explain why and how the play occurred. The most recent suspension was issued to Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, who was suspended for 20 games, without pay, for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during the preseason game of the NHL in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Sept. 30. The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced the decision on Wednesday. This play occurred at 5:18 of the second period. Wilson was assessed a game-ending penalty for the illegal check to the head. Wilson, who has been suspended before, is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Wilson’s fourth suspension in the past 105 games he has played, including the preseason and playoffs, was assessed in part for “an unprecedented frequency of suspitions in the history of the Department of Player Safety,” according to the video explanation released by the department with the ruling. In addition to being out of the lineup for Washington’s season opener on Wednesday night, Wilson won’t be available until the Capitals’ Nov. 21st game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Based on his average annual salary, he will lose $1.26 million in game checks.

The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. A player is considered a repeat offender for 18 months following his most recent incident that resulted in a suspension. This status is used to determine the amount of salary forfeited should he receive another suspension. It is important to keep in mind that even if a player is not labeled as a repeat offender, his past history could come into consideration when determining the player’s future Supplemental Discipline. Tom Wilson had an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on October 3rd.

This hit was a very dangerous one with Tom Wilson’s elbow clipping the face of Oskar Sundqvist. The next incident we are going to talk about is St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. He was suspended for the remainder of the preseason games and one regular-season game, without pay, for elbowing Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny during an NHL Preseason Game in St. Louis on Tuesday, Sept. 25, as the National Hockey League Department of Player Safety announced.

Robert Bortuzzo is not a repeat offender and did not get as harsh a consequence because of his clean past. The next case we are looking at is Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who was suspended for the remainder of the preseason for roughing Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad during an NHL Preseason Game in Montreal on Wednesday, Sept. 19, as the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced. The incident occurred at 0:56 of the third period. Domi was assessed a match penalty for roughing.

Max Domi had a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Thursday. The Montreal Canadiens forward is facing disciplinary action for punching Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad in a preseason game on Wednesday. The incident occurred 56 seconds into the third period of Florida’s 5-2 win at Bell Centre. Domi was called for roughing and given a match penalty. The following grounds are being considered for supplemental discipline: roughing and punching an unsuspecting opponent.

However, the Department of Player Safety has the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review. Finally, the last case I will talk about is Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson. He has been suspended for three games for an illegal check to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese during Game 3 of the teams’ Second Round series in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 1, as the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced. The incident occurred at 9:38 of the second period.

Wilson was not penalized. Aston-Reese left the game, and the Penguins said he has a broken jaw and a concussion, and he would end up missing the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “We’ll prepare like we always do,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said on Wednesday before the suspension was announced. “The focus is on the next game, and any adjustments or changes we make, we’ll react however we need to. We’re taking roll call today and we’ll see where we are.”

Tom Wilson had a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety. So who attends these hearings? The purpose of a hearing is to interview the player and his representatives about the play in question. No decision on Supplemental Discipline is made until the player is given the opportunity to explain his actions. If the Department of Player Safety determines that any Supplemental Discipline from an infraction will result in five games or less or a fine of more than $5,000, the hearing is conducted by phone.

If the infraction might require a suspension of six games or more, the offending player is offered the opportunity for an in-person hearing. In this case, the player remains suspended until the hearing takes place. If the player waives his right to an in-person hearing, the hearing will be conducted by phone. At this point, reflect on how you think the Department of Player Safety is doing. Are they too harsh, not harsh enough? I personally think that these suspensions are just right.

Sometimes I’m surprised at some plays for which they give suspensions, but in the end, they are just trying to make the league as safe as possible. I personally think that big hits and fights are part of hockey and don’t understand why they give suspensions sometimes for big hits or fights. There are people on the roster for some teams just for fighting and just for throwing big hits. These players definitely can change the momentum of a game with one fight or one big hit.

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Physical play in hockey, consisting of allowed techniques such as checking and prohibited techniques such as elbowing, high-sticking, and cross-checking, is directly linked to fighting. Other players jump in and fight the player who does any of the above to their teammate. I think that hockey is starting to become soft and not the game it was 10 years ago. It’s more of a speed and shifty game now rather than a shooting and checking game.

People who defend fighting say it is a critical part of the game that some fans come primarily to watch the fights or other physical plays take place. Also, it lets your players protect your star player when said star is being targeted. Despite the consequences and injuries that can come from fighting, administration has no plans on eliminating fighting from the game of hockey, as most players think it is essential to the game itself.

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Hockey Podcast: NHL's Player Safety Debate. (2020, Jan 04). Retrieved from