December 12, 2011
Sutton: Suspension process flawedOilers D-man wants appeal system
By DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Andy Sutton concedes the game has changed since he first broke into the NHL 13 years ago.
And as the league continues to hand out suspensions like beads at Mardi Gras, the Edmonton Oilers defenceman believes the disciplinary process should evolve as well.
Currently serving his second suspension this season, Sutton is at the totalitarian mercy of the league when it comes to how hard he's hit both on the ice and in the pocketbook.
"Obviously I wasn't very happy about it. They make the decisions and unfortunately we have to live with them. I don't have much in the way of recourse in any way, shape or form," Sutton said. "It's hard the way they have things set up now. You come in with the best of intentions and a slight body change by the guy you're hitting, or maybe timing, if your timing is a hair off, it goes from being a good hit to a bad hit, just like that.
"Even when I hit (Jeff) Skinner later in the game, it could have gone the other way if he just moved subtly in a certain direction. It's walking a fine line and I feel like I'm getting the brunt of it."
Sutton was issued an eight-game suspension by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for a hit on Carolina Hurricanes forward Alexei Ponikarovsky last Wednesday.
It comes just over a month after Sutton received a five-game ban for stepping into Colorado Avalanche rookie Gabriel Landeskog.
In total, the two suspensions will cost Sutton $264,749 in salary.
"At a certain point we have to start keeping our heads up and knowing who's on the ice," Sutton said. "You can't be skating around with your head down and not expected to get hit because everyone is going to get suspended. There has to be ownership all the way around. I feel like the guys are learning but we don't have the balance just right yet.
"It's changed so much since I started, in so many ways. So this is just another dimension for us to get used to."
Apart from the seemingly excessive suspensions being handed out by Shanahan this season, some for hits that have put others in the Hall of Fame, a growing concern among players is that there is no real appeal process in the league.
Shanahan's word is final and the inconsistencies in how suspensions have been handed out this year have led to confusion as to what's legal what's not legal Ñ what will cost a player three games and what will cost one eight.
On a few occasions this season, Shanahan has suspended players for hits that weren't penalized in the game.
"There absolutely should be (an appeal process)," Sutton said. "My only course of action is that I can appeal to Gary Bettman. That's not going to change anything. Going forward in the new CBA we have to make strides in that regard. We should have an impartial arbitration committee that's going to take a look at this have my people on my side, have the NHL on their side and have an independent party that's going to make these decisions. It's not just one guy making all these decisions."
Sutton was allowed to state his case on both occasions with Shanahan. The first time he travelled to New York to meet in person. In regards to the Ponikarovsky hit, Sutton spoke his piece over the phone.
Had Sutton believed he could have swayed Shanahan's opinion, the six-foot-six, 245-pound defenceman would have probably made the trip.
However, he's in a growing group of people around the game that is frustrated with the process.
"It's a big hot-button issue for the NHLPA going into the next negotiation, it has to be," Sutton said. "You can't have it set up when it's just Shanahan's decision and then your only course of action is to go to his boss, who has never played a game of hockey in his life. How is that a good setup? It's not.
"It's a flawed process, and it needs to be changed. You can't just go around taking people's money."