Five theories on why suspensions are down in the NHL this season
When NHL fans learned that an animated 3D game would take place in the world of Disney’s Big City Green City, many asked the obvious question: what would happen if a fight broke out? Will Tilly roll the dice with Cricket?
The animators had a contingency plan: the digital avatars of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers players would just sort of bump into each other before the camera panned to Kevin Weeks in a cap. But it got me thinking about other possible acts of violence in the game.
What if the Capitals’ Tom Wilson had a repeat disciplinary action against the Rangers and did something worthy of a suspension? Could an animated referee chick narrate a video about the safety of NHL players? (“This, BWOCK, is charging…”)
We’ll never know because Wilson thankfully didn’t do anything rash on Tuesday night. It’s actually in line with a broader trend this season: NHL players are at their best when it comes to extra discipline, to an unusually noble degree.
If it seems like there are fewer suspensions in the 2022-2023 season, it’s because it’s true: until Wednesday night, suspensions and games lost due to suspension are at their lowest level at this point in the 82-game season than in any another score for the last 10 years.
Even if (or when) the NHL suspends St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington for unsportsmanlike conduct against the Minnesota Wild, it will still happen.
The NHL Player Safety Department suspended 16 players for acts of violence, resulting in 34 games lost in both the preseason and the regular season. So far last season, the NHL has suspended 25 players for 63 lost games. This season, 34 games have been lost, which is even less than in the 2019/20 season (44 games), which was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re interested in that too,” said George Parros, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, speaking to Sportzshala at a general managers meeting this week in Florida.
“Our goal is to take care of hits that need to be taken care of and educate players through our actions. It clearly works,” he said. “But you can’t give credit to anyone other than the guys on the ice. This is a fast game. These guys are so experienced, they fly at such a high speed. We ask many of them to act within our rules, and they have done so even more so than in the past.”
Since Parros gives full credit to the players, I asked one of them about his theory about the lack of suspensions this season.
“We’ve paid so much in escrow over the years that we don’t want to give back to the league anymore,” New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson said with a laugh.
Severson had his own scathing theory, but I had a few more of my own. So I decided to take them past Parros.
Theory #1: Lineups have changed to the point that repeat offenders—or players who play first hit, then score—are fewer and farther apart.
This theory was used primarily to explain the decline in NHL fights during the era of wage caps. While the team’s fourth line used to be filled with eight-minute enforcers per game that were attacking gaps, the speed and skill of the modern game means these places in the roster are better exploited by faster, younger players. On the blue line, the premium for offensive defenders is higher than for those who kill the opponent with crushing blows.
“We haven’t really changed the rules of wrestling per se,” Parros said. “I just think roster positions have become more and more important in the world of caps. Teams need performance across all their lines.”
The NHL can’t fight without fighters. Perhaps there are fewer bounty hunters in the NHL because there are fewer bounty hunters.
Physical players can also contribute to other aspects of the game and therefore want to find the line between hard hitting and not costing their team a disqualification.
“We still have players who throw a lot of shots and stay out of our line of sight and can do it. So those are the players that I think are stuck,” Parros said.
Theory #2: Rule changes have made the game so aggressive and voluntary that there are fewer physical activity “boiling points” and fewer opportunities for traumatic play.
This decline in disqualification came at a time of a sharp increase in the number of assaults in the NHL. The league currently averages 3.17 goals per team per game, the highest since the 1993-94 season.
Browse Sportzshala+’s game offerings any night of the season and the stylistic changes are obvious. Teams play much more in a hurry. Speed in the attack zone is usually more important than polishing in corners. Fewer open front battles between big attackers and even bigger defenders in a 5v5 format, and more offensive flow across the zone.
So perhaps there are fewer disqualifications because there are fewer opportunities for the play that leads to them because the game is played at such a high pace.
Again, just a theory that Parros slightly disagrees with.
“Our guys are definitely looking to play the game fast, but still play it physically. As you can tell based on our numbers, there was a lot of matching. [to the rules]. This led to an excellent result on the ice, he said. “But I wouldn’t discount the fact that we still play a very physical game and try to keep it up. I wouldn’t talk about boiling point or anything like that. We’ll see when the playoffs come out.”
Speaking of boiling points…
Theory #3: Suspension-worthy plays are reactionary rather than intentional
There are three kinds of games that receive suspensions. There are accidental hits that meet the in-game penalty criteria and result in disqualification, even if they are just a fraction of a second misjudgment. There are deliberate acts of violence that are targeted and deliberate, and they receive lengthy bans. Then come reactionary plays—not intentional, but definitely intentional, fueled by the emotions of the moment.
Severson believes that most of the extra discipline these days is reactionary plays, not headhunting.
“What is happening seems more reactionary, more spontaneous,” he said. “This is what I saw recently. Sometimes guys get carried away.”
As one NHL executive told me, “You won’t see any more guys who just say, ‘I’m going to go out on the ice and kill this guy on the next shift.’
Parros agreed that the motives had changed. “Most of the things we deal with don’t have the kind of premeditation that may have been used decades ago,” he said.
While this may not reduce the number of suspensions, it likely played a role in the total number of games in which players were suspended. In 2022-2023, there were no bans for more than three games. There have been five such suspensions so far last season.
Theory #4: After more than a decade of training, players have more respect for each other
Admittedly, this theory has the most potential to make your eyes roll. The whole phrase “when the players respected each other” was used as a defense against the more barbaric times. But respect among the players may also be the reason why we are seeing a more civilized game.
“I think so one hundred percent,” said Parros. “I think there are so many examples of guys playing this game with respect, respecting their opponents, but obviously still willing to compete and do whatever is necessary. But more than ever, we’re seeing guys showing signs of respect. try to avoid hitting their heads as much as possible. I think it’s pretty obvious in the way the game is played and how the shots are even taken.”
Much of this has to do with the education players have received regarding player safety. The videos that the NHL releases detail how and why the suspension was issued. Briefings that players receive during training camp on rules compliance standards. He also has a better understanding of the consequences of violent acts, not only in the short term, but also after the end of the player’s career.
“The videos and stuff that we’re watching just shows that people don’t want to see the consequences of this,” Severson said, adding that players are thinking a lot more about what it’s like to be a recipient. the end of a catastrophic blow.
“I think there is more respect. If you’re cutting down the middle, would you like the guy to just drill through you?” Severson asked. “But it works both ways. If you’re going to hit someone like that, you’d better expect something to come back.”
I asked the Devils defenseman about his fellow New York Rangers Jacob Truba.
Truba is arguably the league’s most prolific hitter – and the most controversial. Chicago Flames forward Andreas Athanasiou said earlier this season that Truba is “almost trying to hurt people” because “he’s an $8 million man with zero goals, so he needs to figure out how to do something when he’s making so much money.” “. (For reference, the Trumpet now has seven heads.)
While fans on social media handed out a dozen suspensions to Truba, he was only banned once by the NHL for hitting Mark Stone in 2017.
“He’s laying down some big hits,” Severson said. “One day he will hit somebody and there will be a big tough guy on the ice and [Trouba] going to clean his watch.”
It’s the flip side of “respect among the players,” a side celebrated by old-school fans from the days when enforcers roamed the ice. This is the notion that the delicate balance of player safety is supported in part by the potential threat of retaliation.
Interestingly, this week’s GM meetings discussed vengeful “cleaning the clock.” They discussed fights that happen after clean hits and whether they need more punishment in the game. I heard that suspension from work for such actions was not discussed, but an additional ban or stricter enforcement of the instigator rule could be applied.
“Good, clean beats