Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook: Physical Abuse of Officials

Welcome to the next installment of our series where the WIIM authors read big, boring NHL documents so you don't have to. Today's rulebook post finishes the second of two rules governing abuse of officials.

2013-14 NHL Official Rules (PDF)

Rule 40 - Physical Abuse of Officials

It's one thing to make threats or hurl other kinds of verbal abuse or show some other signs of disrespect to the officials. Rule 39 takes care of those offenses It's another world of hurt the NHL can unleash on a player if he tries to actually hurt an official in any way, shape, or form. Welcome to Rule 40.

40.1 Game Misconduct: A player incurs a game misconduct when he uses force against an official, tries to injure him, "physically demeans" him, or uses force to try to get away from an official "during or immediately following an altercation." I have a feeling if an official is trying to restrain a player, he'll still be assessed a misconduct if he uses any kind of force to get away from the official, regardless of there being any sort of altercation present.

The following categories classify the degree of violence against an official and outline minimum suspension length.

40.2 Automatic Suspension - Category I: Any player that injures or tries to injure an official gets a minimum of 20 games. The rulebook defines "intent to injure" as "any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury." So if anyone tried to pull a Chris Simon on an official, he can't then claim, "I didn't know it could hurt him like that." Actually, he can, but his claim won't be taken seriously.

40.3 Automatic Suspension - Category II: This rule subset outlines a lighter punishment if a player applies physical force "without intent to injure." It also includes a provision against spitting on an official. Violations under this rule incur a minimum 10-game suspension.

40.4 Automatic Suspension - Category III: A longer list of offenses—including physicially demeaning, physically threatening, spitting at (as opposed to on) an official, or physically forcing himself free from an official—incurs an even lighter 3-game suspension minimum.

40.5 Automatic Suspension - Process: When the referees make the call on the ice to invoke this rule, they simply assess a game misconduct to the offending player. After the game, the referees and linesmen decide on the actual category of the offense—whether to invoke 40.2, 40.3, or 40.4. They then produce a verbal and written report to the League Department of Hockey Operations. All parties involved plus the NHLPA and the player's Club are notified of the decision the next morning. The process finishes with a conference call between the League and the NHLPA to review the application of the rule.

Either side—player or officials—can request a Commissioner review of the final category of offense assessed by the referees. Such request must be filed no later than 72 hours after parties have been notified of the penalty.

If a review takes place, the Commissioner will make "best efforts" to have it conducted before the second game missed by the player due to automatic suspension.

Category III hearings may be conducted by phone; Category II and Category I offenses must be dealt with in person.

After review, the Commissioner may decide on several possible courses of action:

(i) sustain the minimum suspension;

(ii) increase the number of games;

(iii) change to a lesser category offense only;

(iv) change to a lesser category offense and increase the number of games within the new category; or

(v) reduce the number of games for a Category III suspension.

The parameters for punishments laid out by Rule 40 are not intended to limit any other possible action the Commissioner can decide to take under Article 18 of the CBA.

Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for the parties involved, we do have a very recent example to illustrate enforcement of Rule 40 in the Dan Carcillo suspension from this past postseason.

The video above focuses on the fight between Brandon Prust and Derek Dorsett. In the background of the ice-level camera view, you can see linesman Scott Driscoll attempting to move Carcillo away from the fight and directly to the penalty box because there was a charging call levied against him.

In the ensuing scrum between player and official, Carcillo got his elbow up and his Driscoll in the jaw. The referees and linesmen assessed Carcillo a game misconduct per Rule 40 for Physical Abuse of Officials, and in the aftermath, the referees deemed it a Category II offense, thinking the elbow was an application of physical force to an official without intent to injure. Carcillo was suspended 10 games.

Upon request for review, the Commissioner convened an in-person hearing per Rule 40.5 where Category II and I offenses must have an in-person hearing. After testimony, video review, and deliberation by the Commissioner, Gary Bettman then released his decision in an opinion which invoked the fourth order of the review process: "changing to a lower category and increasing the number of games within this category." After reviewing the incident, Bettman concluded Carcillo's contact with the official was "solely for the purpose of getting free of an official during or immediately following an altercation," and as such then reduced the offense from Category II to Category III. After this decision, he then proceeded to increase the suspension from the minimum three games to six games.

There are many times I have and will complain about the NHL not following its own rules. Here, almost every bit of the process was followed to the letter of the law. The only problem was the time from notification of the offense to the eventual conclusion of the review, as three games had passed in the meantime. As the linesman was struck with an elbow on the ice, it's understandable if the officials couldn't determine immediately if Carcillo's actions were only to break free of Driscoll. Thus, the Category III assessment could only be made after video review.

40.6 Supplementary Discipline: "In the event that the player has committed more than one offense under this rule," the case will be referred to the Commissioner for further supplementary discipline on top of the automatic suspension incurred under one of the categories. I wonder what "has committed more than one offense" is supposed to mean: Does it refer to committing the same Rule 40 offense against multiple officials in the same sequence before being thrown out of the game? Or does it simply mean that a player will be subject to supplementary discipline if he commits more than one Rule 40 offense "in the same season"? Or ever?

40.7 Coach or Non-Playing Club Personnel: Any non-player who "holds or strikes" an official is automatically suspended for the balance of the game and will have a very nice chat with the Commissioner.

40.8 Police Protection and Security: All Clubs shall provide adequate security and police protection "at all times" for "all players, goalkeepers and officials." It says "at all times," and it makes me wonder if that just means "at all times in the arena." Is the home club really responsible for providing security for officials' and players' transportation to and from the game? I doubt it.


We start penalties next. Boarding and Charging, and maybe Checking from Behind.