Getting to Know the CBA - Episode 12: Articles 18 & 18-A: Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct & Commissioner Discipline for Off-Ice Conduct

Stevie Roxelle - @stevieroxelle - Biscuit Fox

Two articles in one today, as we dig into the NHL's supplementary discipline policy. Let's rock.

You can find the entire CBA here (PDF)

Article 18: Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct

While teams have the authority to suspend players for a range of reasons, they're not going to be trusted to mete out punishments for their own players when they cross a line that endangers or injures other players, or otherwise harms the game. Since discipline is such a difficult process, it had to be codified in the CBA. We're not going to get as far into the painful specifics as in some other articles, but we'll cover it thoroughly.

The Important Stuff

You'll be seeing this a lot, but if a player does something bad, the league has the authority to fine him or suspend him. Most suspensions you'll see will be five games or fewer; this is intentional. You see, for any suspension less than six games, the Commissioner has the sole discretion to judge appeals. For anything longer than that, the decision on whether the punishment fit the crime falls to a Neutral Discipline Arbitrator to decide.

I mean, lots of bad things players do may not call for suspensions that long anyway, but there's a feeling that the league doesn't want a neutral arbitrator telling them how to run their own disciplinary procedures and they'll wait until they've got a slam-dunk case before dropping the hammer in a meaningful way.

You'll also see this brought up a lot each season, but a punishment of a fine over $5,000 all the way up to a 5-game suspension gives the player the right to a telephone hearing prior to the punishment while a suspension over 5 games requires that the player be given the option to have an in-person hearing with the Commissioner (or his designated representative) before the punishment may be given.

Deciding Factors

When an incident happens, it's given a preliminary review by the league (specifically the Department of Player Safety, whose authority to rule on suspensions is given by the Commissioner per this article). In the review, the league will look at several factors in deciding whether a player deserves additional discipline:

  • The type of conduct involved & whether it was reckless or intentional. This part specifically says "players are responsible for their actions."
  • Whether a player was injured by the act.
  • The status of the offender and whether he has a history of receiving supplementary discipline, with the understanding that punishments will get severe as acts pile up.
  • The game situation and whether or not there were incidents leading up to the act (as well as factors like how lopsided a game has become or how late the act happens in a game).
  • "Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances."

There are some "automatic" suspensions which can be reviewed and implemented (and even appealed), but for everything else, the league is given pretty wide latitude when it comes to being able to implement supplementary discipline.

"Repeat Offenders" and a Clarification

When a player is suspended, he loses the pay he would receive for the game(s) he misses. This money is given to the NHL Players' Emergency Assistance Fund. The money also doesn't count against a team's Actual Club Salary (giving them the tiniest bit of cap break). If a player is a first-time offender, the amount he loses is calculated on a per-day basis (one day divided by the total number of days in the season, which is defined as being no less than 184). If a player has been suspended for anything within the previous 18 months, the amount is calculated on a per-game basis instead (one day divided by the number of games in a season).

As you can see, being a "repeat" offender is more than two times as bad on the player's wallet as being a first-timer. But, there's a bit of a misconception here in definitions I want to clear up because I've seen it several times over the last few years. The term "repeat offender" here only has meaning as far as it comes to calculating the salary lost. What it does *not* mean is that a player's slate is wiped clean every 18 months. A player who viciously head-shots an opponent every 19 months is going to see harsher punishments come down the line because his history of suspensions never goes away as far as whether the league can look to punish more severely.

How Fines Work

Instead of the maximum $2,500 fine, the new maximum is 50% of a player's daily pay (his Paragraph 1 salary not counting performance bonuses divided by the number of days in the season). Even then, a first fine cannot exceed $10,000 and a follow-on fine within a 12-month period cannot exceed $15,000.

Doing the math, this essentially means a player being paid more than $3.7M cannot be fined 50% of his own daily pay because that would exceed the $10K max.

Fines don't count as far as "repeat" offender status for suspensions, so a player could get fined an infinite number of times and then be a first-time offender for the calculation of how his pay is docked if he's actually forced to sit a few games.

The Review Process

The League isn't compelled to release the videos we've come to get used to, but they are a nice addition to the process. Besides, when the league reviews an action, they're taking all of that game footage and other factors into consideration anyway and have to keep it documented in the case of an appeal. The league looks at game film and will take statements from any number of people involved (players, managers, coaches, officials, doctors, etc.) to help them make their final call. When the call has been made, they're responsible for fully explaining how they reached their ultimate decision, which they are compelled to do quickly.

This is because the league can suspend a player indefinitely (but within reason) while they complete the review of a questionable play.

Appeals

The appeals process works a lot like arbitration (especially if it's an appeal for a 6+ game suspension... because that actually IS arbitration). The difference is that the timeline is automatically expedited. Unlike in the MLB, NHL players remain suspended pending appeals. If the appeal is successful, the player gets his pay back and can be awarded performance bonuses that could reasonably be inferred he might have made had he not been wrongly suspended during the games he missed.

The Neutral Discipline Arbitrator works under the same rules as the Impartial Arbitrator. This person can be removed by either party and must be replaced quickly. Substantial experience as an arbitrator or a judge is required.

Public Comment/Criminal Proceedings/Educational Videos/Explanatory Notice

Rapid fire time:

  • Publicly criticizing a fine or suspension is grounds for a fine or suspension. Take your medicine, whiners.
  • If criminal proceedings start against a player for on-ice conduct, he may seek a reasonable delay in any supplementary discipline decision in order to first seek legal counsel for the outside problem. The league can also suspend a player pending a formal review of the matter when not doing so would create a "substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the league."
  • During preseason & at several times during the season, the league will send along informative videos which show examples of the kind of acceptable and unacceptable conduct they're focusing on, the purpose being making sure they properly educate the players.
  • The NHL and NHLPA will give this specific article (or an agreed-upon summary of it) to the players prior to the season so nobody can claim that they weren't aware they could be suspended for being really stupid.

Article 18-A: Commissioner Discipline for Off-Ice Conduct

Think of this one as a catch-all, so a player can't be a complete jerk off the ice and get away with it. This one has the all-important "conduct detrimental to the league" language which gives catch-all authority for the NHL to deal with a PR nightmare that may not necessarily manifest itself on the ice. The Commissioner has the authority to expel a player for a definite or indefinite period, even going so far as to have authority to cancel a contract if he sees fit (there is an appeals process, so his authority is limited in scope to that which is actually defensible).

League officials are specifically barred from commenting on an ongoing case other than saying it's being investigated and may not comment on a decided case other than to lay facts. Since the Commissioner is the ultimate judge here (unless he's already judged and an appeal makes an arbitrator the judge), any league official who is "prosecuting" the case against a player or other person may not discuss the case with the Commissioner or his associates. Both of these rules are meant to prevent the kind of impartiality which can come from professional familiarity between the people involved.

- - -

That's all for this week. Next up we should get a two-fer, as Articles 19 & 20 are fairly short, covering how the per diem and expense reimbursements work, as well as what players are entitled to as far as game tickets. Should be a rollicking good time.

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