With the possible exception of James Wisniewski, no NHL player felt the wrath of Brendan Shanahan’s suspension rulings quite like Andy Sutton. The hard-hitting defenseman followed up a five-game suspension (cost: about $57K) with a whopping eight-game punishment that will set him back about $207K.
That’s a harrowing chunk of his $2.25 million salary, but he’s not griping about the money lost. Instead, he’s attacking the way the league handles suspension appeals … and he might just have a point.
Sutton told Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal that he’s not very happy about the fact that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acts as the “judge” in the appeals process.
“I can appeal to Gary Bettman, but that’s not going to change anything,” Sutton said. “You’re allowed to bring as many people as you want to defend you, but at the end of the day, it’s just more opinions — and they are going to make theirs. It needs to change.”
“In the new CBA we have to make strides to have an impartial arbitration committee. I’d have people on my side, the NHL would have theirs, and then we’d have an independent party make these decisions.”
The NFL is a pretty solid place to go for an example of how other leagues handle these situations – and not just because it’s the gold standard in North American sports. Football games have their fair share of hits that generate controversy, but when an NFL player files an appeal, Roger Goodell isn’t the one who makes the call. Instead a (hopefully) impartial party is contacted. (Former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell acted as the judge for Ndamukong Suh’s notorious Thanksgiving Day stomping incident, for instance.)
For all we know, Bettman’s rulings could be as pure as can be, but it’s natural to wonder if there’s a conflict of interest. NHLPA head Donald Fehr made an interesting comparison to the way people can contest parking tickets.
“If you get a parking ticket, you can contest it,” Fehr said. ”And it’s not the same person who levies the penalty who gets to decide whether you’re right and it’s not somebody with whom he works, that gets to decide if you’re right. So that’s an issue.”
It’s likely that Sutton deserved to be a suspended either way, but the brutish blueliner is probably right. If the NHL is going to allow its players to appeal fines and suspensions, then the league would be wise to make the process a bit more fair.