Should Pronger have gotten more?

point/counterpoint

Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz
Mike Woods
Mike Woods

The NHL handed Anaheim Ducks’ star defenceman Chris Pronger an eight-game suspension Saturday for his March 12 stomp on Vancouver Canucks’ forward Ryan Kesler. Originally, Pronger had been let off the hook—the league told him Thursday night he wouldn’t be suspended. When the mainstream and Internet media began criticizing the decision, though, the league miraculously dredged up a clearer camera angle documenting the stomp and suspended Pronger for eight games.

Eight games is better than none, but it’s nowhere near enough, according to the NHL’s own standards. Skates are a deadly weapon, as recent injuries to the likes of Richard Zednik and Kevin Bieksa attest, and the league usually recognizes them as such. Earlier this season, Chris Simon was suspended for 30 games after stepping on Jarkko Ruutu’s skate.

At the time, NHL vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell branded Simon as a goon who can’t control himself.

“He just snaps,” Campbell told the Canadian Press. “And we can’t have that. Because now we’re talking about the safety of other players on the ice. ‘”

Interestingly, Campbell’s comments after the Pronger suspension were much less harsh.

“In attempting to free himself, Pronger carelessly and recklessly brought his foot down,” he said.

From Campbell’s comments, you would think that Simon was an axe murderer and Pronger was an angelic star who happened to make a careless mistake. Both players have been suspended eight times by the league for similar offenses, though. Pronger’s portrayed as a star who made a mistake while Simon’s an uncontrollable goon who endangers others. The difference is that Pronger’s a marketable star, while almost anyone can fill Simon’s roster slot.

The disparity in suspensions for similar acts reveals the league’s two-tier system of justice. This sentiment has been echoed by many parties, including the Globe and Mail’s editorial board.

“No longer is stomping another player such an unforgivable act—at least not when it’s committed by a star,” they wrote Tuesday.

In the end, it all comes down to money. No one outside of Simon’s family is likely to buy one of his jerseys or go to the rink just to see him play—unlike Pronger, one of the Ducks’ biggest stars. The Globe’s Eric Duhatschek summed it up perfectly in his column Monday.

“Under the current NHL rule of law, it isn’t justice for all,” he wrote. “It is justice for some.” Unlike the famed statue, the NHL’s justice isn’t blind.

--Andrew Bucholtz

The NHL didn’t quite get it right when it levied an eight-game suspension against Chris Pronger for stepping on Ryan Kesler, but he certainly didn’t deserve the 30 games Chris Simon received for his stomping infraction in November.

Simon has been whining that Pronger should have been punished according to Simon’s earlier suspension.

Pronger and Simon’s actions were entirely different.

Simon, coming off the heels of a 25-game suspension for chopping Ryan Hollweg in the face, slew-footed and stomped on Jarkko Ruutu during a stoppage in play with obvious intent to injure.

Pronger’s situation was much more complicated. His legs were tangled with Kesler’s, and in an attempt to free himself and get back into the play, one of his legs came down on top of Kesler’s. It was a hockey play with two players entangled—much more difficult to decipher.

It’s impossible for the NHL to punish players based on intent. But what it can do is assess the action, its context, and then take past suspensions into account.

The argument of a double standard has been used often, but the NHL has suspended Pronger at crucial times in the past—twice in last year’s playoffs alone.

As The Hockey News’s Ryan Dixon points out, Campbell obviously believed Pronger’s intent was indiscernible.

“Pronger skates away and the NHL avoids the dangerous precedent of conviction on character perception,” Dixon writes.

The suspension must also take into account the amount of time the player misses. Pronger, who plays 30 minutes a game, will miss about 240 minutes of action during this suspension. Simon, a seven minute-a-game player, missed about 210 minutes during his 30-game ban.

Pronger and Simon’s histories are both dotted with suspensions, but they’re entirely different players.

Simon’s a career ruffian whose sole purpose is to intimidate the opposition. In doing so, he frequently crosses the line and puts people in danger. His past suspensions have been for acts far more brutal than Pronger’s, and he appears not to learn from his mistakes.

Pronger, in playing a rough physical style for 30 minutes a game, sometimes strays from the rulebook and is appropriately punished.

As a repeat offender, Pronger should’ve gotten 10 games, which would leave him out of one playoff game.

Simon should spend less time worrying about Pronger and more time concentrating on playing the game cleanly.

--Mike Woods

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