Patrick Kaleta's 10-game suspension upheld by Gary Bettman

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Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta's appeal of his 10-game suspension was denied by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday.

Kaleta was given a 10-game suspension for contact to the head of Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson last week. The penalty was on the stiff side since Kaleta was a repeat offender. Not agreeing with the suspension length, Kaleta and the NHLPA appealed Brendan Shanahan's decision.

Appeal: denied. Bettman explained in his ruling:

I have concluded based on my review of the matter that there is clear and convincing evidence to support Mr. Shanahan's determination that a ten (10) game suspension is the appropriate penalty in this case. My conclusion is based on both the nature of the violation and, even more significantly, on Mr. Kaleta's prior disciplinary record, as discussed below.

As an initial matter, it bears repeating though it should not be necessary to do so -- that head hits are a matter of great concern to the League and the Players and that violations of Rule 48 are among the most serious Playing Rule infractions in the game. This can come as no surprise to anyone associated with the NHL as I have been very clear, consistent and vocal on these points.

Bettman continued, detailing Kaleta's discipline history and why he feels the 10-game suspension is fair. In particular was this bit of strong language from the commish:

"This is a remarkable record over the span of just three and one-half seasons for a Player who is only in his eighth NHL season, and, as noted above, has demonstrated a total disregard for the safety of other Players and, in particular, their heads. It is not only the frequency of his prior offenses but, even more so, the fact that all of the offenses involved in some way contact with or an injury to an opponent's head that leads inexorably to the conclusion that Mr. Kaleta has not responded adequately to the progressive discipline that has been meted out to him thus far. In these circumstances, and supported by the comparable recent cases involving Columbus Player James Wisniewski and Edmonton Player Andy Sutton, as discussed below, which I find applicable here, I have no hesitation in affirming the determination that a meanningful increase in the quantum of discipline to be imposed on Mr. Kaleta is warranted and that a suspension of ten (10) games is an appropriate punishment."

That is what we could call a verbal smackdown. Bettman summoned his inner lawyer and backed up the suspension thoroughly. If you have a chance, you should read the entire ruling from Bettman here (click the PDF file).

This is no surprise, Bettman very rarely overrules the decision of his department of player safety. That's why there is now an option for Bettman's decision to be appealed to an independent arbitrator (why they don't just skip to that part is beyond me at this point). This will be the first test case so eyes in the NHLPA will be watching this closely.

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