Friday, 21 November 2014

NHL responsible for on-ice violence, not the NHLPA.

I'm coming across on social media the notion that the NHL Players Association is mostly responsible for the endemic violence and use of intimidation as a tactic in pro hockey, that they're the ones standing in the way of progress.

Relying on the NHLPA to agree that its members should bear the brunt of harsher discipline so as to eradicate fighting is unrealistic, and flies in the face of a union’s duty to represent its members. Why would the NHLPA, which has had to retreat significantly in hugely important areas of its CBA the last couple of rounds of negotiation, give a freebie to NHL owners, without getting anything in return?

There was a comic who once observed that the birth control pill was the wrong way to go about contraception, since if you want to keep everyone safe you take the bullets out of the gun, you don’t make everyone wear kevlar vests.

Same with the NHL. If it wants to make the game safer, instead of relying on tough guys to prevent other tough guys from being overly tough on that elastic toughness scale that’s so hard to quantify, why don’t they just remove the tough guys from the environment? And punish the teams that insist on employing such hazardous players? Which it could easily do, with fines and suspensions for coaches or GM’s, loss of draft picks or draft position, or salary-cap penalty.

Thought experiment: Chris Neil dummies rookie forward Filip Forsberg with a flying elbow, and Shea Weber responds as tradition wants and as he’s been encultured to do. He goes up to Chris Neil and tries to avenge his teammate by engaging him in a fight. Now the NHLPA should willingly agree that Shea Weber should bear the brunt of the blame for this situation?

I worked at a company where, despite what we thought were our best efforts, worker injuries occurred too often, and we even had fatalities. What caused even greater attention to safety in our workplace, about which some managers would shrug and sincerely think and say: “What more can we do?”, was the Worker’s Compensation Boards hammering us with punishingly high rates, and threats of doubling or tripling these, and even more draconian measures, if we didn’t shape up.

This caused a crisis at the very highest levels in our company, but suddenly the heat was on, and major changes occurred. Traditional work practices that caused high injury rates but were previously thought to be unavoidable were abandoned. Mandatory, documented ‘tailgate meetings’ at the start of shift to go over safety considerations were introduced, with great scrutiny on foremen and supervisors that these not be slacked on. Rigid adherence to the ‘New and Young Workers’ safety/initiation training, an province-wide initiative by WCB, again with documentation, and General Managers accountable for completion rates to be at 100% and remain there, was another method used. A safety awareness campaign through HR, featuring our own employees was a visible sign that we had to double down on this.

And what do you know, these and many other changes and initiatives had a positive effect, and the injury rate started creeping down. It wouldn’t have happened however without external pressure to do better, and a focus by the Directors to ensure that we did do better.

What we didn’t do, however, was threaten our employees that they’d face penalties if they got injured. But that’s the sole method the NHL relies on. John Moore elbows another player into next week? Three games suspension for you. Chris Kreider barrels into his fourth goalie in less than a year? You’re on a watchlist, buddy boy!

It’s absolutely crazy. If the Rangers were now facing a drop of ten positions in their draft position for the second round, and the next infraction would start messing with their first-rounder, and if Alain Vigneault and Glen Sather were just back from suspension and facing longer ones for the next infraction, there’d be real change in New York. They’d take players aside and coach them on how they want them to play. Players who are borderline maniacs would play less or not at all, and players who can actually play with the puck would find their way into the lineup. Danny Kristo wouldn’t be immediately described as slender or undersized, but rather as a scorer. He’d be playing in the NHL, and Tanner Glass and Ryan Malone wouldn’t.

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