Should there be a 'good guy' exception for NHL suspensions?

Anaheim Ducks center Andrew Cogliano was suspended two games by the NHL department of player safety on Sunday, ending the fourth-longest consecutive games played streak in NHL history. His suspension raised questions about whether the department should take a player’s character into account when deciding his punishment.

Morning Skate: Should there be a “good guy” exception for NHL suspensions?

Greg Wyshynski: On Monday, after Cogliano gave an emotional interview during which he discussed the end of his steak, former NHL penalty-minute-magnet Tie Domi tweeted the following:

Now, having Tie Domi on your side of a player safety argument is like having Gary Bettman on your side of a labor dispute, but let’s break it down: Cogliano hit Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe in the head nearly two seconds after he released the puck. It’s definitely worth a suspension. A thousand Ducks fans playing the “But what about …?!” game, citing other hits for which the department of player safety didn’t suspend players, doesn’t change the fact that it deserves a suspension, as unfortunate as it was for Cogliano’s consecutive-games streak to come to an end.

Now, Domi seems to indicate that this streak, the fourth-longest in league history, and the respect Cogliano has among his peers should have … negated the suspension? Let’s think about that.

The department of player safety, since its inception, has had two missions: to change the behavior of players and to throw the book at repeat offenders. Cogliano didn’t have any prior offenses. You could make the argument that, hey, he’s a good dude who shouldn’t have been suspended to break his remarkable, historic streak. Cut that guy a break, and save the suspensions for repeat offenders such as Zac Rinaldo.

Well, here are some other “good guys” who have been punished by the department of player safety: Kevin Shattenkirk, suspended two games in March 2017 for charging; Marcus Johansson, suspended two games in January 2016 for an illegal check to the head; Ryan Suter, suspended two games for elbowing in January 2015; and David Pastrnak, suspended two games for a check to the head in October 2016.

The point is, good dudes sometimes make bad decisions on the ice. And the department of player safety is tasked with using its beloved, good-guy celebrity as an example of what not to do. Like, for example, hitting a guy in the head nearly two seconds after he has released the puck. Which is what Cogliano did, and why, alas, his streak ended.

Emily Kaplan: There are hundreds of factors the department of player safety should consider when determining a suspension. What is the situation of the play in question? Did one of the involved parties see something we (the viewer) didn’t? Was the play avoidable? Is a repeat offender involved? I could go on and on. One question the department of player safety shouldn’t be asking: “Is this a good guy or a bad guy?” Even though each suspension includes mitigating factors, a proposition that subjective skews the entire equation.

In assessing a suspension, the department’s purpose should be this: gather all of the possible evidence to clinically dissect what happened. Then make a decision based not off emotion, but off the facts. Judging character adds an element of emotion. More troublesome is this: Who is to determine if a player is one of the good guys? I’m not sure how someone could reasonably delineate why Cogliano is good and therefore should be exempt while, say, Patrick Maroon (who received a two-game suspension earlier this month) is not. Is there a certain amount of money he needs to donate to charity? Should you poll teammates anonymously to make sure he’s liked? Should we monitor his social media to make sure he’s not a jerk? It seems like an awfully slippery slope to me.

But perhaps most important, let’s remember why the department of player safety exists. The purpose of suspensions is to regulate the game — to punish bad behavior in the hope that it can be corrected in the future to make the game safer. Sometimes dangerous plays are committed by good human beings; it’s just a fact. Letting a guy slide here and there — giving a wink and a pass to the “good guys” — really doesn’t help the NHL achieve this purpose. In fact, I think it could do a lot more harm.

Chris Peters: To a certain extent, I think the department of player safety already does take character into account. It’s just using a less-subjective way to evaluate it. I like that the department does consider a player’s disciplinary history to determine whether the player is within the “repeat offender” window or not. It provides important context. A player like Cogliano, who had never been fined or suspended previously and has only had more than 30 penalty minutes in a season twice in his career, has earned and probably received every inch of the benefit of the doubt, especially given what was on the line.

There’s no doubt to me that a two-game suspension for a player in Cogliano’s position — with his remarkable streak, one that obviously meant a lot to him — carries more weight than your average suspension. In the end, however, I think the department of player safety made a credible case for its decision, where two key factors came into play: the lateness of the hit and significant head contact. If Kempe was injured, the suspension probably would have been longer. It was a surprising hit from Cogliano, who typically processes the game at such a high speed. This is precisely why they can’t add that subjective element. Sometimes good guys make poor decisions.

I still feel sympathy for the NHL’s modern-day Ironman, just as most people who watched his interview on Monday probably did. It’s a tough way to end the streak, but it was within his control to avoid that hit.

The department of player safety gets enough grief for perceived inconsistencies in its decisions. Adding another piece of subjectivity like a “good guy” exception — that may end up being based more on personal experience, and thus introduce additional biases into the process — opens it up to even more criticism. I don’t always agree with the decisions the department of player safety makes, but I have a lot of respect for the work that is being done, especially as it appears we’re seeing fewer incidents that require the department’s full attention.

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