The NHL’s suspension appeal process needs to be better, and faster

Photo credit:Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
2 years ago
@Jason Spezza is serving a six-game suspension for his knee to the head on @Neal Pionk. He’s currently four games into his suspension and awaiting an appeal with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Elliotte Friedman makes a valid point about appeals needing to be done faster in his latest 32 Thoughts.
From 32 Thoughts:
16. Something has to be done about appeal timelines. No matter what you think about Jason Spezza’s suspension, his previously clean record should earn him a fair appeal. Unless Commissioner Bettman surprisingly drops him a game, it’s almost impossible to get to an independent arbitrator before the six games are up. That’s not right, especially for someone with no history.
According to multiple reports, Spezza’s appeal hearing was on Tuesday — six days after he appealed the suspension. During that time, he’s missed three games, and we still haven’t heard anything about the appeal.
That doesn’t make sense.
At this point, Bettman will take one game off of Spezza’s suspension, and he’d be able to return on Saturday vs. the Canucks. If that even happens.
I understand that what Spezza did was predatory and dangerous, especially with Pionk’s head being the principal point of contact. We’re trying to remove that from the game, and he deserves a stiff suspension.
But as Friedman said, Spezza has no previous history and should be given a fair hearing.
He hasn’t, and most players haven’t.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety FAQ states, “Players may appeal all on-ice discipline to the Commissioner, provided written notice of the appeal is provided within 48 hours… The Commissioner will endeavour to hear all appeals on an expedited basis and will determine whether the decision was supported by clear and convincing evidence.”
I understand that with challenging suspensions, it may be a longer process. However, Spezza isn’t a repeat offender, nor is he someone who plays dangerously (other than this play).
If no games get taken off by Bettman, Spezza can go to an independent arbitrator. Which, again, takes more time.
There needs to be a better process to this.
By the time Spezza receives his appeal response, his suspension will likely be over. It’s unclear whether NHL takes the postponed Flames game into account either.
You’d hope they would, but it’s the NHL, so it’s doubtful.
There’s one appealed suspension that comes to mind throughout this. The NHL handed an eight-game suspension to @Nazem Kadri after a hit to the head on @Justin Faulk in the 2021 playoffs. He appealed the suspension in 48 hours but wasn’t given a hearing until nearly a week after.
There are some suspensions, which receive appeals that deserve to be long and drawn out. You could probably put Kadri’s in there because he is a repeat offender, and those hits always seem to happen in the playoffs.
However, with everything that we’ve seen from Spezza throughout his career, it shouldn’t take this long.
The NHL Department of Player Safety, though, also has to be consistent with what they give. If the NHL hands out suspensions correctly, these discussions wouldn’t need to happen.
I’m not saying this suspension is wrong, because again, it’s not the best-looking hit from Spezza’s point of view. Yet the more suspensions there are — the more everyone is scratching their heads.
All Bettman has to do is listen to what everyone said during the hearing, watch additional video evidence (if there is any), and make a decision.
With the NHL’s COVID-19 situation going on right now, I can understand that appeals might take longer than normal. But to have it take this long is just unfair, to any player.
It needs to be fixed.

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