Will Rasmus Andersson’s suspension appeal succeed?
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike1 month ago
On Friday night in Columbus, Calgary Flames defender Rasmus Andersson received a major penalty for elbowing (and a game misconduct) for a hit on Columbus’ Patrik Laine. On Saturday, a four game suspension was announced for Andersson. On Sunday, the NHLPA announced they have filed an appeal of Andersson’s suspension to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Andersson’s appeal will reportedly be heard on Monday. Are there strong arguments or precedents against his suspension? And will his appeal succeed?
There weren’t any appealed suspensions last season, but three suspensions were appealed to Bettman in 2021-22:
- Jason Spezza’s kneeing suspension on Neal Pionk in December 2021
- Brad Marchand’s roughing/high-sticking suspension on Tristan Jarry in February 2022
- Nino Niederreiter’s slashing suspension on Axel Jonsson-Fjallby in March 2022
When a suspension is appealed to Bettman, the suspended party is arguing that the Department of Player Safety got it wrong somehow. Sometimes that’s arguing that they applied the rules incorrectly, or precedent incorrectly, or merely were a bit too severe in terms of the amount of supplementary discipline doled out. (In Niederreiter’s case, they unsuccessfully argued that a one-game suspension should’ve been a fine instead.)
Article 18.2 of the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement lays out the general guidelines for supplementary discipline, which focuses on five specific factors:
(a) The type of conduct involved: conduct in violation of League Playing Rules, and whether the conduct is intentional or reckless, and involves the use of excessive and unnecessary force. Players are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
(b) Injury to the opposing Player(s) involved in the incident.
(c) The status of the offender and, specifically, whether the Player has a history of being subject to Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct. Players who repeatedly violate League Playing Rules will be more severely punished for each new violation.
(d) The situation of the game in which the incident occurred, for example: late in the game, lopsided score, prior events in the game.
(e) Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.
In terms of Andersson’s hit on Laine, the suspension video released by the NHL notes Andersson making significant head contact on the hit, the elevation through the hit (“unnecessary upward movement”), Laine’s injury, and the game situation. “This launch, the force of the hit, and the game circumstances under which the hit was thrown combine to elevate this hit to the level of supplemental discipline.”
To overturn the suspension, or reduce it, Andersson’s camp would need to successfully argue that some, or all, of those premises are wrong – or that rules or precedents are being applied incorrectly.
What precedents would Player Safety likely be relying on when making their ruling on this hit? There are two similar hits with suspensions of similar lengths that seem likely, both from 2022-23:
- Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s three game suspension for an illegal check to Cal Foote in November 2022
- Jamie Oleksiak’s three game suspension for an illegal check to Alexander Alexeyev in December 2022
Aube-Kubel was noted as having no significant disciplinary history (similar to Andersson), while Oleksiak had been suspended once in his NHL career prior to that incident – and for the purposes of supplemental discipline, neither player was considered a “repeat offender.”
Now, the likely argument you can make if you accept these two situations as generally similar to Andersson’s is “Hey, how come Andersson gets four games and these guys each got three?” And we think we have a decent enough rebuttal: the timing of the ejection of each player from the game their incident occurred in.
Aube-Kubel’s match penalty came 1:52 into the second period, so between his penalty and his suspension he missed three games and two periods. Oleksiak’s match penalty came 9:43 into the second period, so he missed three and a half games. Since Andersson was tossed at the buzzer of the game with Columbus, one could argue that to make these generally similar transgressions similar in punishment, giving Andersson slightly more than three games would suffice – hence, the fourth game.
Admittedly, we’re making assumptions because the Department of Player Safety only releases their short videos and don’t publish longer explanations – those rationales are usually included in Bettman’s appeal judgments, though. The added fourth game is arguably the weakest link here, but there’s no guarantee that Bettman will flag it and reduce the suspension.
Generally speaking, Bettman hasn’t tended to reduce suspension lengths in the appeals he’s heard as commissioner. Since the beginning of the 2013 version of the CBA, we could only find a couple suspensions for on-ice conduct that were reduced by Bettman on appeal. One was to Dan Carcillo, whose 2014 suspension was reduced after Bettman ruled that the wrong rule related to applying physical force to an official was cited in the original ruling, and the other was to Jason Spezza, whose aforementioned 2021 suspension was reduced after Bettman cited the length of Spezza’s career without incurring any supplementary discipline.
Aside from those types of unique circumstances, Bettman tends not to overrule league staff. Far more suspensions have been reduced by further appeals to the neutral arbitrator, which isn’t available to Andersson due to the length of his original suspension.
Do you think Andersson’s suspension should be reduced? How long a suspension would be appropriate in his situation? Let us know in the comments!
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