- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

SUNRISE, Fla. — It reached the point where the NHL’s suspension process was so mysterious and unclear that it was a running joke. An online “Wheel of Justice” was created to predict a player’s supplemental discipline after a questionable incident.

That changed this season with Brendan Shanahan being named vice president of player safety. The league also implemented a suspension process with video explanations designed to bring transparency to a process that was shrouded in secrecy for so long.

Four months into this experiment and a week after Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin received a three-game suspension, the system still is a work in progress despite generally positive reviews from players.

“I always say, whether you agree or you disagree, it shows the level of work that we put into it. And it actually forces us to be better,” Shanahan said last weekend in Ottawa. “I’ve had about five or six hearings now where evidence has been put to us that maybe in the past, I could’ve said, ‘Well, it’s pretty compelling evidence, but we’re still going to suspend him for three games and that’s the end of that.’

“If we can’t really prove it on a video - the video forces us to ask ourselves those questions.”

Plenty of questions remain, especially when hits happen that don’t lead to suspensions. The same day Ovechkin was handed a three-game ban for charging Zbynek Michalek, the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman escaped punishment for an elbow to the head of Capitals forward Matt Hendricks.

It’s believed that no fine or suspension was given because Michalek appeared to lose his balance, but the NHL did not give an official explanation. Because of that, some, such as Caps forward Jeff Halpern, don’t give glowing reviews about the video process.

“Well, it doesn’t explain the other ones,” Halpern said. “There’s a lot of other ones that don’t happen; you don’t get an explanation for. I don’t know if it really helps.”

Defenseman Karl Alzner pointed out that the Capitals had “theories” about why Michalek wasn’t suspended but didn’t want to comment further. That specific case will go down as one in a vast sea of borderline-to-dirty hits this season that go unpunished, but the issue of explanation is still there.

“I think they need to really kind of lay it down as clear as day and as simple as possible because people are always going to wonder why,” Alzner said. “And if it’s not out there so a 10-year-old can understand it, then somebody’s going to always ask the question.”

Later in the week, Shanahan posted on Twitter some brief reasons why certain players did not receive supplemental discipline for questionable plays. It’s not a full video, but it’s progress.

So why not videos for every hearing?

“Too busy, man. We’d be making videos all day every day,” Shanahan said. “It’s a timing issue. I do believe that players deserve more credit. We’re not exactly where we want to be, and we all know that.”

Before Shanahan’s video explanations came new rules to curb blindside hits and hits to the head. That’s something Capitals general manager George McPhee says has gone a long way toward eliminating gray areas in what kinds of hits are acceptable and which ones will earn penalties, fines and/or suspensions.

But like the discipline process itself, it’s far from perfect.

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