Saturday, February 11, 2012

NHL Fines and Suspensions (aka $2500 and an alligator purse)

When the NHL announced there would be no suspension, only a $2,500 fine, for Dominic Moore’s hit on Fedetenko, four thoughts immediately struck me:

  1. The NHL sure seems to be moving from 1 (or 2) game suspensions to fines for many infractions (e.g. PK Subban’s slew foot);
  2. GMs and players must love this shift away from suspensions to fines;
  3. The fines are a joke of a deterrent, but since this system seems to appease both owners and players, is there any appetite at all to increase the maximum fine in the next CBA? and
  4. I really hope Bertuzzi isn’t a buddy of Fedetenko’s.
A Look at the Numbers

I pulled all the data I could find on NHL suspensions and fines. Sadly, that amounted to about three seasons’ worth (if anyone can find a link for fines in 2008-09, please post it in the comments).

I’m not going to weigh-in on the number of suspensions or the number of total games lost due to suspension. There could be many reasons for the large increase in 2011-12 and I'm not all that interested in going there. What I am interested in is the increasing prevalence of fines as a form of NHL discipline.

NHL Fines and Suspensions 2008 to 2012
No. of Suspensions
Total Games
No. of FinesTotal Fines $Ratio of Susps. to Fines
2009-1029865$6,0005.8: 1
2010-113812712$20,500 3.2: 1
2011-12 (to date) 3514325$62,5001.4: 1

As the above table illustrates, fines have quintupled since the 2009-10 season. In terms of fines to suspensions, the ratio is almost even. It's gone from a high of nearly 6 to 1 in 2009-10 to 1.5 to 1 in the current season. (Note: I stripped out all of the fines assessed to GMs, coaches and teams. The fines in the able above reflect only those assessed to players).

Fine with the Fines?

As for my second thought, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that GMs and owners must love the NHL's shift to fines instead of suspensions as their offending players don’t miss any games.

The players must love these fines too. The maximum fine is so small it might as well be spare change from under the couch cushions.

The CBA sets-out the maximum fine of $2,500. For a player making league minimum, that’s 0.004% of their salary. In the case of Dominic Moore, who will earn $1.2 million in salary this year, his $2500 fine is about 0.002% of his salary – the equivalent of someone who earns $50,000 a year being fined $104.

A one game suspension for a guy making league minimum (that’s 1/82 of his pay) would cost $6,402 in lost salary. A one game suspension for Moore would have cost him $14,634 in lost pay. In light of the salaries NHLers are making, I'm sure they'll gladly pay a $2,500 fine.

Discipline, Fines and the Next CBA

Which leads me to my third thought – is there any appetite for minimum player fines to be increased in the next CBA?

I doubt it. The league may want to increase fines so that they can be better used as a deterrent, but I can’t see the players agreeing to it or the owners pushing for it. On the former point, why would the NHLPA want to give the league more disciplinary leverage? To the latter, I can’t see the owners pushing for the change as the current system is great – players can pay the fines with sock money and, more importantly for the owners and GMs, not miss any games.

If the owners and players are both happy, why would they want to open another possible area for disagreement during the bargaining process? I suppose an argument could be made that increasing the maximum fine would allow the league more leeway in handling discipline and more players might miss fewer games, but I’m not sure what the NHL would have to concede in order to get that change into the next CBA. Surely there are bigger elements to address than a crappy disciplinary system that both sides seem pretty happy with.

What's Next?

If the current trend continues, I suspect by the end of the year fines will surpass suspensions as the most common disciplinary action and that the league, players and GMs will be ok with this. What remains to be seen is if such tiny fines can actually work as a deterrent towards eliminating dangerous play, keeping players safe and reducing recidivism. I have my doubts, but I'm even more doubtful a change will come.


  1. Colin Campbell said the NHL announced "less than 1%" of fines-

    So, for all we know, Fines are down, suspensions are up.

    Since Colie did all his business in a smoke filled back room, there's no way to prove anything.

    As for the next CBA, I doubt it changes by much, it's a perfect system to appease both sides, fines make it appear as though there's discipline, players don't actually lose anything significant in terms of salary and coaches/GMs don't have to worry about losing a player for an extended amount of time.

    Great piece. I'd love to see how Shanahan matches up to Colin in the playoffs as well.

  2. Paul Steckley11:00 pm

    Nice work gathering this data. It is an interesting trend and I suspect that Shanahan has been receiving "advice" to favour fines over suspensions after the negative noise many GMs were making at the beginning of the season.

    Fines will work no better than suspensions in correcting errant behaviour. The NHLPA refuses to mandate mandatory visor usage for its members. It clearly, despite its protestations to the contrary, is not that concerned about player safety. They accept the risk of serious injury as part of the job, even when that risk is due to the stupidity/carelessness/blood-thirst of their own members rather than arising simply as part of the game. Workplace safety in other industries arose because workers and their unions pressed for change. Unless, and until, the NHLPA develops an appetite for change, there will be none.