NHL: Rules? Who Needs Rules?

Henry DyckSenior Analyst IApril 23, 2008

Earlier this week it was reported that the NHL was fining Anaheim defenseman, Scott Neidermayer, a hefty sum of $500,000 for skipping training camp before the season began.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote an excellent article[i] explaining that it isn’t the league that is punishing the 4-time Stanley cup champion but rather his own club, the Anaheim Ducks.

According to the current collective bargaining agreement, when a player misses training camp the team has two options: they can either say ‘that’s fine, come when you feel like it’ and have the players salary count against the Cap, or they can say “fine, don’t show up, but you’re being fined $500,000 for your absence” with no salary hit.

The Ducks chose the latter, allowing Neidermayer to take his time with his decision of whether or not to retire, while keeping his salary off the books. However, the $500,000 fine would have to be addressed at some point before next season began.

Sounds simple enough right? Not if you’re the NHL.

As Mr. McKenzie reports the NHL and the NHLPA are working together in their best effort to look the other way where this rule is concerned - for this one-time instance only. From here on out, all 30 teams will have to abide by this rule to the letter.

You can only imagine that the other 29 teams in the league are scratching their heads over this back-washing turn of events.

If you’re an NHL fan, especially one living overseas or in the U.S., no doubt you’ve had to defend the league at some point to individuals or friends who are ignorant of the sport.
I’ve had to do quite a bit of it over the past 15 years or so, even to some of my own non-hockey loving Canadian brethren.

They’ll bring up points regarding how the NHL isn’t even on the radar in most parts of the States. How they’ve had 3 work stoppages since 1992. How their current national TV deal is a joke compared to most other major sports. How the season is too long. How we can’t seem to get the same level of officiating game to game.

Through it all, I’ve tried my best to present a level-headed and educated argument for every question or complaint non-hockey partisans expound.

But I can’t let the NHL slide on this one. How on earth is it fair to let this rule slide, just this one time, for this particular instance? The league doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to shake its label of being an ‘Old-Boys Club’. One where fans, and even other NHL personnel claim that executives such as Anaheim general manager, Brian Burke, or New Jersey GM, Lou Lamoriello, are given a separate set of rules to adhere to.

If I were an owner or exec within one of the other 29 teams, I would begin to look at the Collective Bargaining Agreement - one that cost the NHL an entire season and playoffs - as more of a book of suggestions rather than an unwavering legally documented set of rules.

Ken Holland, feel free to spend outside of the Cap limit. David Poile, go ahead and sign a player beyond the 20% individual player ceiling. Heck, why stop there? To all the NHL general managers, stop paying your players, use two pucks and put two goalies in net.

After all, the NHL has made it quite clear that not all rules need to be followed to the letter.

Welcome to ‘Thunderdome’ hockey fans! Rules need not apply here!

To the people who take every opportunity to bash the NHL and its shortcomings, your breath no longer needs to be wasted. The NHL can do it all on its own.

Henry Dyck

[i] http://www.tsn.ca/columnists/bob_mckenzie/?id=235405