Fine and Dandy: Today’s Hockey Pros Scoff at Monetary Punishment

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Something that has changed over the years in the NHL and other pro leagues is players’ and coaches’ attitudes toward fines. During my playing career and the early part of my officiating career, the threat of fines was a real deterrent to people in the game.

Most of us weren’t making much money and even those who were making a pretty good living parted with their money very reluctantly.

The hockey players and coaches from my era were so cheap that they wouldn’t pay to see the Last Supper with the original cast.

Human nature has not changed THAT much. However, in my 40 years in the game, the salaries much certainly have. Players and coaches in the NHL and other top pro leagues make salaries that have moved the decimal point into the millions and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I don’t begrudge them the money. However, the system of fines — and maximum fines — has not evolved with the times to make it any sort of legitimate deterrent. Yes, I know the NHLPA has a part in this but I find it interesting that the NHL lets the Players’ Association pretty much have its way with keeping fines minimal relative to today’s salaries.

Think about this: Gary Bettman and Bill Daly take a hard line stance on a variety of issues in its collective bargaining tangles with the NHLPA, and have a track record of more or less getting their way when all is said and done. Meanwhile, the League (and the PA) says all the right things about a commitment to player safety and crackdowns on dangerous hits, embellishment and diving.

When all is said and done, though, the system of fines remain a joke. That’s because it’s a lot easier to keep the status quo with a lot of window dressing for public relations purposes.

If you want to do discipline and put some teeth in the league, whichever league it is, you can make the game safe by suspending coaches for putting guys out there who are reckless and play without to injure others.

When they added automatic 10-game suspensions to coaches for players leaving the benches during altercations, the bench clearing fights stopped. The same thing would happen if they fined people money that actually hurts.

I know this for a fact. Some years ago, shortly before the explosion of salaries, the NHL forbade teams from paying fight-related fines on behalf of players — which used to be standard practice. In fact, players were deeply offended (and their teammates and even opponents alike sympathized) if the team owner did NOT pay the fine for the player. What happened was a huge cutdown on gratuitous instigation. That was actually a more effective preventive step than the instigation minor and misconduct penalty itself.

As for the current system of monentary punishments, how much deterrent are these pocket-change fines? Zero. For example, how much remorse do you think Shawn Thornton and Henrik Lundqvist had during the playoffs last years when they were fined $2,820.52 and $5,000 respectively for those bush-league water bottle squirting incidents?

While we are on the subject of joke fines, the NHL is now two-plus months into its much publicized “crackdown” (actually a weakening of previous rules) of replacing its unenforced rule calling for incremental suspensions of serial divers with a system of incremental fines for players and coaches for multiple offenses. The fines are a joke, maxing out at $5,000, but the stated premise was that it was easier to implement and enforce fines than suspensions.

OK, it’s December 9 folks. Has anyone heard or read about a fine being issued yet? If so, I’m not aware of it. However, if I watch a random game tonight, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll see some diving or embellishment (whether called or let go by the official).

You want change? You want real deterrents? Then take players’ ice time away. Take away coaches’ chance to coach away (ala the Tortorella suspension last season for the “attempted dressing room invasion” caper). Take their money away so that the players feel it.

While you are at in, hold our referees accountable too. We are all in this together.

********* Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.