According to an ESPN.com report, Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux sent NHL commissioner Gary Bettman a letter last week that suggested a team should be fined when one of its players is suspended. The plan calls for the amount of the fine to be based on the length of the suspension.
• 1-2 games--$50,000 fine to team
• 3-4 games--$100,000 fine to team
• 5-8 games--$250,000 fine to team
• 9-10 games--$500,000 fine to team
• 11-15 games--$750,000 fine to team
• More than 15 games--$1 million fine to team
Lemieux argues such a rule would ultimately make clubs more responsible for the acts of their players. We asked our team of Globe writers if they think the proposal would work.
Bad idea. The effect will be to have the board of governors, driven by the "tight" deep pocketed, put up a wall of resistance to longer suspensions. The league disciplinarians, technically the employees of these teams as a group, will be extremely reluctant to throw a million-dollar fine at a team that is already struggling to make ends meet. Who, for example, would pay the fine in Arizona?
That is not to say the blame should not be spread. There are ways to punish that make more sense. One is to fine the coaches involved, as they are responsible for lines and line changes and are far more responsible for staged fights and deliberate attacks than people realize. A player knows when he's sent out "not to dance" and responds accordingly. Fine the coaches, and fine them big. And if you want to hurt the franchise, even go so far as to suspend the coaches.
Can you imagine the New Jersey Devils without Jacques Lemaire behind the bench?
Then, if you need to punish the teams even more, and there will be times when a team, such as the New York islanders, deserves to be put in chains in a dark room for a long, long time. What you do then is a assign them to play exhibition matches in Northern Manitoba, the Yukon, backwoods Ontario and Ungava -- teams welcome to split the gate providing they pay their own expenses.
I would go further. I would, in addition to financial penalties, take a draft choice away from a team on a scale basis. Start with late round and work up. You need to punish the GMs and coaches as well as sanctioning players. You could also reward teams for fair play by adding draft picks, say between the first and second round.
I'm of two minds about this because Roy makes some compelling points. But I think back to 1980, when I first started covering the NHL on a regular basis, and there was an unofficial nod-nod, wink-wink practice in place at the time when it came to the matter of fines and who actually paid them.
Nominally, the team was theoretically obliged to deduct the amount of the fine from the respective player or coach's pay check for any offence, right up to chasing after fans in the stands. The reality was something else entirely. For a time anyway, nobody really ended up losing any money. There was no system in place to follow-up on who actually paid the fine - or any due diligence on the matter (surprise!). In the end, it just became a book-keeping exercise. Teams would either cover off the costs of those fines on behalf of players and coaches, or return the money to them after the fact.
All that changed about a decade later - and you can imagine the squeals of outrage from players who, upon receiving a league fine in this new era, were then were actually obliged to pay them. My vague sense at the time was that it did affect behaviour. Line brawls disappeared; and players who were paying fines on a regular basis reigned in their own behaviour - a little anyway - because they did not want to be out of pocket.
To be fair, that was a different age and a different salary structure and today's players and coaches - even the fringe players at the bottom of the roster - are so well-compensated that a fine is not as big a deal as it was back in the day. But I know players and I know teams and deep down, a lot of them are cheap. And if you institute a series of fines, along the lines of what Mario Lemieux outlined, it will act as a deterrent to some anyway. Will it create justice across the board? As Roy suggests, probably not. But in conjunction with what will hopefully be other steps that the league takes to reduce injuries and overall bad behaviour, it might be worth trying.
Fines never seem to work, especially if they're just dings in a millionaire's wallet. Like you or I buying a coffee at work.
What the NHL needs are serious measures strong enough to ensure the players don't act recklessly on the ice. Here are some suggestions:
- A player suspended for one or two games must serve as Sean Avery`s man servant and butler for a week. Good luck picking out his clothes.
- A player suspended for three or four games must teach New York Islander Trevor Gillies how to play hockey without trying to remove an opponent's helmet with his head still in it.
- A player suspended five to six games has to buy the Phoenix Coyotes.
- A player suspended seven to 10 games has to carry a sign that says "I like Gary Bettman" into every arena he plays in for a month.
- A player suspended more than 10 games must do all of the above plus forfeit his entire salary for the rest of the season plus shovel my walk the next time it snows.
Works for me.
I like the idea of the punishment tour; but I fear Roy might be right - it would discourage the really big suspensions and the big fines.
How about going up the ladder to GMs? Fine the player, the coach and the guy who hired them both.
There is a reason Roy is known as the Dumbledore of the Globe sports department. His wisdom and sage advice have long sustained us all, and I must once again defer to his judgement.
Like Eric, I also remember the days when players, coaches and GMs never worried about fines because they were never paid or were paid back in the form of some bonus or other. But I don't think when it comes to the NHL, the governors and the teams that those days ever went away.
What would result is a grand pronouncement by Gary Bettman that the Phoenix Coyotes or whoever were fined $1-million for some on-ice buffoonery. Then who is to say the fine ever got paid?
So yes, suspend the coaches, who do cause a lot of the problems. I suppose you could suspend the owners but I suspect they would see it as the equivalent of being sent to jail when you have the upper hand in Monopoly - you can sit there and not pay the bills.
If fining owners means fewer, or shorter, suspensions, than I'm with Grange. Fine up to the GM level, and don't sacrifice the length of suspensions.
On principle, not a big fan of fining people who are not responsible for the suspendable offence. But the hockey buck stops with the GM, coaches often play a role in these incidents by who they decide to play (and when), and current levels of fines/suspensions to players doesn't seem to be an effective deterrent.
The aim here isn't to impoverish owners, it's to take idiots off the ice. Besides, the league might just want to keep the fine-the-owner card in its back pocket, in case it needs to get tougher in the future.