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Taylor Hall fined for a sucker punch to the head of Ilya Lyubushkin

Punches cost $5,000 is the lesson.

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Remember when you all yearned for him? Glad those days are over.
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U mad, bro? Just hit the guy in the head when he’s not looking. After all, what’s $5,000 to a guy making $6 million a year? That’s the lesson the NHL is giving its players.

The NHL itself does not have control over the maximum fine. That, like most things, are collectively bargained with the NHLPA. While many can make the argument that the NHLPA should care about player safety and do what’s good for the players — despite what the players want — that sort of paternalism doesn’t get you very far. So while it would be more useful, if the NHL is going to use fines, that they be meaningful amounts, don’t hold your breath.

The problem occurs when the NHL’s Department of Player Safety chooses to use fines instead of their other two choices which are to do nothing or to issue a suspension.

An argument can be made (here it is) that the fine is actually the appearance of doing something while really choosing the nothing option. It’s optics, that word so beloved of the modern world. All that maters is how it looks, not how it is or what it means.

It’s possible to look up all the old fines and suspensions. Wikipedia is very handy for this, but because the NHL doesn’t have a designation for “sucker punch to the head” or “punch to the head” or “punch” it’s hard to find similar incidents. But this is not the first time a punch cost $5,000. My first recollection of same is when Gabriel Landeskog punched someone on the bench. His coach made a joke about how for $5,000 he should have hit the guy harder and was himself fined. That situation has always crystalized for me that the NHL’s punishment system is all optics. Everything about it is superficial. The coach, Patrick Roy, was more guilty because he was pointing out the naked emperor.

There are a very few times when a player has done something so bad — and to be clear, this is nowhere near that level of act — that the NHL has been actually morally offended and issued a big deterrent suspension. The rest of the time it’s optics. Superficial, meaningless and designed to make it seem like NHL hockey isn’t bad like it used to be while still, you know, being like it used to be in many ways. What’s changed is the players, not the game, not the game’s rules, and not the NHL’s vision of the entertainment product they want to sell.

What are this year’s precedents?

There are two fines for “roughing” this season, one seems to have been an elbowing. The other was this:

Gallagher was fined $2,500, the lower amount possibly due to the misconduct he’d already been assessed in-game.

There were two suspensions for rouging, one something unlike a sucker punch, but I’ll link you to the NHL’s article on this one:

The Larkin incident is much, much closer to the Hall incident. Like with the Jason Spezza incident, the suspension was based on the two facts that it was retaliatory and the force of the attack. Unlike the Spezza incident, it wasn’t an absurdly high number of games.

The only logical conclusion is that Hall didn’t hit Lyubushkin hard enough to tip this over into a suspension, and this remained a chequebook sucker punch. That has to be the case, otherwise the NHL’s discipline system is so wildly inconsistent and illogical that it’s wide open to conspiracy theory interpretation. And they wouldn’t do that, would they?