Earlier this week Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta was given a 10-game suspension for a hit to the head of Jack Johnson, one that did not leave the Blue Jackets captain injured. It seemed like a severe penalty from the league.
It seemed so severe that Kaleta has decided he's going to appeal the decision and if Gary Bettman doesn't rule in his favor, it will go to an independent arbitrator. The argument is likely to be pretty simple; it's too long of a suspension.
Kaleta's teammate and co-captain Steve Ott is of the belief it's too long. He told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News that given the fact that Johnson wasn't injured he thinks the suspension is unfairly targeting Kaleta.
"It's hard because there's no injury on the play," Ott told The News today after the Sabres' pregame skate. "I have a hard time with it for that simple fact. Is it suspendable? Absolutely, as in the guy could have really been hurt. But could have is not good enough for me.
"No one wants to see anybody injured by any means but that has to play in the equation if you're going to throw a book at somebody. He didn't even fall. Could it have been bad? Sure. For me, the injury has to play into the situation."
Now nobody would expect Ott to take any different approach, this is his teammate we're talking about, of course he's going to stick up for him, even if Kaleta is perhaps the toughest player in the NHL to stick up for these days (somebody's got to do it). But Ott raises the old debate: should the league suspend to injury?
There are some who believe that players should be suspended for as long as the opposing player is out due to injury, leaving it almost completely dependent on the injury issue. However it's a very slippery slope and injury returns are not always clear cut. Sometimes a guy comes back for a game or two and then shuts it back down. How would the congruent suspension work in that case?
Either way, that's not the approach the NHL takes. What's important to note here, though, is the fact that an injury is only part of the process where the suspension length is determined. They also consider things such as the dangerousness of the hit itself and, the important part for Kaleta, the history of the player. In his case it's pretty long, so long that Matt Cooke reached out to Kaleta and said he'd offer to help him change his approach on the ice and transform his career the same way Cooke has.
It's important to consider multiple factors instead of just the injury. As Ott notes it was a potentially dangerous hit and thankfully Johnson escaped injury. That doesn't mean it couldn't have been bad. Just the same as people are prosectued harshly for attempted crimes, nobody has to actually be harmed for them to be thrown in jail. That loose analogy applies to suspensions too. To be a proper deterrent and cut out the action you have to suspend to the potential instead of the result otherwise players might take more chances they shouldn't hoping they'll get lucky and not actually injure the opponent. Intent isn't part of the equation anymore since it's impossible to determine but injury potential really isn't, we've seen enough damage-causing hits.
Perhaps the appeal process will agree with Ott that an injury is needed to achieve this kind of suspension even with Kaleta's past, though I have my doubts. Given his history it seems just right to me in terms of length, I have no problem if the league is going to get tougher just so long as it is relatively consistent.
Curious to see opinions on this matter; is Ott right here in that the suspension is too long given no injury on the play? Take this exact Kaleta example out of the equation; should the NHL suspend to injury more closely?