The Leafs played the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in a game that was dull until the very end when many things happened.
- Anthony Mantha jumped Jake Muzzin after a clean hit, punched him and had him in a headlock.
- Muzzin took Mantha down bodily, and Mantha hit his head on the ice. Muzzin was given the extra minor penalty for an unexplained unsportsmanlike conduct (that’s usually for something you say or do that the refs take offence to but isn’t covered under the rules specifically).
- Travis Dermott was ejected for banging his stick on the ice after the Red Wings scored on the resulting power play.
- Andreas Athanasiou took a run at Alexander Kerfoot and tried a knee-on-knee that failed only due to Kerfoot’s evasive manoeuvres.
- Justin Holl fought Athanasiou, and they both got the gate.
So naturally, the Wheel of Discipline fell on... Robby Fabbri for a really obvious spearing that was called a slash midway through the second period:
Kerfoot, who apparently the Red Wings don’t like (possibly the red haze of hatred for Colorado players that still infects Detroit after all these years), and Fabbri were given slashing minors at the time, which is odd, since the referee and the linesman say it up close.
Rule 62 – Spearing
62.1 Spearing - Spearing shall mean stabbing an opponent with the point of the stick blade, whether contact is made or not.
62.2 Double-minor Penalty - A double-minor penalty will be imposed on a player who spears an opponent and does not make contact.
62.3 Major Penalty - A major penalty shall be imposed on a player who spears an opponent (see 62.5).
62.4 Match Penalty - A match penalty shall be imposed on a player who injures an opponent as a result of a spear.
62.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - Whenever a major penalty is assessed for spearing, a game misconduct penalty must also be imposed.
62.6 Fines and Suspensions - There are no specified fines or suspensions for spearing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).
In a classic case of assigning penalties for the outcome they wanted, not according to the rules, the referee wanted two minors and four-on-four hockey, so he transformed the spearing into a slash to avoid having to hand out a major penalty and a game misconduct.
Technically the Commissioner does have the right to fine players as stated in the rule, and that right has been passed onto the Department of Player Safety. They’re fond of fines under the new regime run by George Parros. The criteria for the fine amount is capped at 50% of one day’s salary for the player, up to $10,000 on a first offence. Fines are not the same as the salary forfeited from a suspension.
Player Safety has issued nine fines so far this year and 10 suspensions for on-ice behaviour.
The NHL has created a system of on-ice referees enforcing a set rule book, while their supplementary discipline has near absolute discretion and exists outside the entire chain of authority of the on-ice officials. They all ultimately work for the NHL, but the streams don’t cross until you get to the very top. It’s inevitable, then, that the league will, with one arm, second guess or overrule the decisions of the on-ice officials.
Fabbri should have been assessed a major penalty under the rules. But penalties are used to manage gameflow, emotions and to appear to be impartial and fair in some way. All fans expect the contradiction of fairness (to their team) and even distribution of penalty minutes, which is impossible to achieve. The NHL has long held with the idea that penalties should be assessed in a traditional way that appears like they’ve achieved both competing goals of the fans, leaving all of us confused most of the time about why they do what they do, and opening the door to conspiracy theorists and the grievance-prone.
And now, after a game with several dangerous actions, several outrageous actions and a lot of penalties given in a flurry, this one choice of a referee from long before any of that boiled over gets special attention. Whether intentional or not, the message here is that the league doesn’t think the referees are doing their job correctly. This is an odd way to make that point.
If DoPS plans on spinning the wheel again for any of the other events of that game, we’ll let you know. I don’t try to guess anymore.