Imports, Suspensions and the EIHL
The ‘no nonsense’ style with which Moray Hanson seems to have embraced his role as the EIHL Head of Discipline has won the former Great Britain international, and the league, many plaudits so far this season.
Decisions have been relatively swift and seem both consistent and ‘fair’. Whilst the Scot isn’t dishing out any Brendan Shannahan style “As the video shows” explanations, posting disciplinary updates (and if necessary break downs of suspensions) on the league website has proved popular.
Sadly one thing always seems to ring true of the EIHL – where a breath of fresh air comes, a cloud is sure to follow.
Hanson was swift to suspend Hull Stingrays forward Derek Campbell for a whopping 47 games in early October.
The ban did not only affect Campbell however, but also hit the Stingrays themselves as the Yorkshire outfit were prohibited from icing another ‘import’ (any player who requires an International Transfer Card to play in the UK) in Campbell’s place.
Campbell was swiftly dismissed by Hull, and the EIHL board settled on a 15 game ‘handicap’ for the Stingrays.
Whilst Campbell received one of the single biggest suspensions in British hockey history, the 33-year old wasn’t the one keeping EIHL Disciplinarian Hanson busy on what became an all to regular basis.
Former Hamilton Bulldog’s forward Andrew Conboy, who joined Cardiff Devils in the summer, was suspended for one match at the start of September following a head butting incident in a preseason game, he then sat for a further 6 matches at the end of September before picking up a 12 game ban last week.
Conboy’s contract with the injury riddled Devils, who have endured a rocky start to the new season, was terminated but the Welsh club still look set to be one import short until Conboy’s suspension period is over.
But some fans are now asking what Conboy’s release may mean for the Devils. The club has suggested they will play with just 10 imports until Sheffield come to town on December 22nd, when Conboy’s suspension would have ended. The situation in Hull has raised questions however.
Whilst the Campbell suspension set a precedent that a club will also receive disciplinary action when one of its players is suspended; the restrictions placed on Hull represented less than a third of Campbell’s total ban.
Will Cardiff expect a similar situation to arise? Allowing them to bring in some much needed fresh blood to replace Conboy. Or will they spend almost six weeks ‘a man short’?
In a lot of ways the idea of penalising the club, as well as the player, is a good one. You would hope it would give clubs pause for thought before signing certain players.
But in just these two examples, we already see the pitfalls starting to open up.
Add in that any suspension against a British player carries no such team based penalties and things seem not only somewhat more confusing, but also more than a little discriminatory.
In most cases suspensions are 1 or maybe 2 games. Most clubs can shrug that off, as will most fans. But it would be nice not to have such muddy waters for once.
As with the move to split the league in to two Conferences, which both revitalised the league and also displayed it at its brainless best (something I wrote about last season), the increased transparency and efficiency of league discipline is offset by the ‘one rule for one’ nature of player suspensions and the awkward club punishments.
It would be nice if the ‘simpler’ NHL model could be applied. A player is suspended or fined, any wages due during the suspension are forfeit and they (or the fine) go in to a fund (a benevolent fund or a players emergency fund or similar).
If you want to give the clubs food for thought, fine them too. A ‘proper’ fine. Not a slap on the wrist that can be written off by increasing the cost of hot dogs by £1.
Whilst most fines dished out in the NHL are ‘a drop in the ocean’ for its millionaire players and clubs with multi million dollar turnovers; I am sure it would give most EIHL clubs something to think about if their bottom line was dented.
Disciplinary fines are not an alien concept to British hockey, even the third tier NIHL has them. But I fear the enforcement of such an idea is a way off yet, given the tenuous way the league can be run sometimes.
The other concern I have on ‘team penalties’ is that by weakening a team, you weaken your product.
Whilst I am sure Braehead, Coventry or Nottingham will have no objection to a weaker Cardiff in some respects – after all, Coaches and players are there to win games and the weaker your opposition the better your chances – a weaker opposition means a weaker product to sell to fans and sponsors.
The UK is not a ‘hockey hot bed’ by any stretch, and it does a terrible job of selling itself nationally. Some clubs do an excellent job of selling themselves locally, but the national consciousness of ice hockey is almost non existent.
Surely you’d want the best product available to try and change that?
Credit where it is due – Hanson and the EIHL are making positive steps. It’s just frustrating that every positive step is accompanied by a misstep.