NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the mandatory 10-game suspension for Anaheim Ducks center Antoine Vermette for abuse of officials.
Vermette’s suspension, defined under rule 40.3, came for slashing linesman Shandor Alphonso at 7:33 of the third period of Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild.
40.3 Automatic Suspension – Category II – Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding actions as set out in Category I), which physical force is applied without intent to injure, or who spits on an official, shall be automatically suspended for not less than ten (10) games.
When Anaheim’s Antoine Vermette slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso, he deliberately applied physical force to the official. It’s a known rule, and a known punishment.
As we’d argued previously, it’s unfair to compare Player Safety suspensions to those meted out by Hockey Ops for abuse of officials, especially when the punishments – and specific criteria for each – are so clearly spelled out in the rulebook.
“These are things that the league reviews. We have a view on it, they have a view on it. Whatever they decide, we have to live with,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “He touched the official. What are you going to do?”
From Bettman’s ruling:
At approximately 7:33 of the third period of the February 14, 2017 game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Minnesota Wild, Linesman Shandor Alphonso conducted a face off in the neutral zone outside the Anaheim end zone. Mr. Vermette took the face off on behalf of Anaheim. After the puck was dropped, and the face off had been won by Minnesota, Mr. Vermette extended his stick and slashed Mr. Alphonso from behind in the back of the leg. Play was stopped and Mr. Vermette was assessed a game misconduct penalty for Physical Abuse of Officials pursuant to Rule 40.1.
After the game, the On-Ice Officials consulted and assessed Mr. Vermette a Game Misconduct for Physical Abuse of Officials, Category II, pursuant to Rule 40.3. The Officials’ reports included a description by Referee Jon McIsaac indicating that he had witnessed Mr Vermette “stand up and look at linesman Alphonso” and that “after looking at him for a second or two . . . he slashed him in the back of the leg/knee area.”
Likewise, Referee Tom Kowal indicated that he had witnessed Mr. Vermette delivering “a short forceful blow with his stick to the back of the knee of linesman Alphonso” after Vermette lost the draw on the face off. Mr. Alphonso’s own report indicated that he “received a slash in the back of my knee” from Mr. Vermette after dropping the puck. (The fourth Official, Linesman Kiel Murchison, did not report witnessing the incident.)
A hearing was held on February, 23, 2017 at the League office. In attendance at the hearing were Mr. Vermette and his agent, Allan Walsh; Bruce Meyer, Don Zavelo, Roman Stoykewych and Mathieu Schneider of the NHLPA; Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks; Linesman Shandor Alphonso; and Dan O’Halloran of the NHLOA. Joining me at the hearing were members of the League office staff, including Bill Daly, Colin Campbell, Stephen Walkom, David Zimmerman and Daniel Ages. Also in attendance was Joseph Baumgarten from Proskauer Rose. All parties were given a full opportunity to be heard and no challenges were raised to the fairness of the hearing.
I indicated at the beginning of the hearing that I had reviewed video footage of the incident leading to the suspension, as well as the Officials’ reports referenced above. The NHLPA stated that it was not necessary to review the video again. The hearing consisted of testimony from Mr. Vermette, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Alphonso, as well as argument by the NHLPA (with response from the NHL) and input from Mr. O’Halloran on behalf of the NHLOA.
The NHLPA argued that Vermette’s suspension should be reduced to five games.
According to the Union, Mr. Vermette’s conduct did not involve the “deliberate application of physical force to an Official” (Category II), but rather involved conduct that “physically demeaned” an Official (Category III). The NHLPA also presented evidence indicating that Mr. Vermette has been a model citizen during his lengthy NHL career; that he is a role model for younger Players; and that there were mitigating circumstances that led to his conduct on February 14, which all who are familiar with Mr. Vermette would likely agree was uncharacteristic.
Here, the On-Ice Officials determined that Mr. Vermette’s conduct involved the deliberate application of physical force to Linesman Alphonso, albeit without intent to injure him. 2 As indicated above, Referee McIsaac described the conduct as a slash and Referee Kowal described it as a short, forceful blow with Mr. Vermette’s stick to the back of Mr. Alphonso’s knee.
Mr. Alphonso characterized the blow as a “slash” in his own report and he did so again in his testimony at the hearing. I have reviewed the video footage of the incident and I agree with those characterizations. Although there does not appear to be any evidence of intent to injure the Official, the blow delivered by Vermette was not merely a “tap,” as the NHLPA suggested.
Bettman summarized the incident and his determination to uphold the suspension.
Mr. Vermette deliberately swung his stick and slashed Linesman Alphonso. Applying once again the plain language of Rule 40, I find no basis to disturb the determination of the On-Ice Officials that this action constituted a Category II offense.
The penalty for such an offense under Rule 40 is a minimum ten (10) game suspension. That is a substantial penalty – and appropriately so. As is true of every Player in the NHL, Mr. Vermette learned at an early age that under no circumstances may a Player strike an Official, either with his stick or otherwise. The fact that a Player may be distracted or under stress cannot excuse an offense or justify reducing it from a Category II to a Category III offense. As I noted in [the decision in the suspension appeal for Dan Carcillo], “neither emotion nor frustration caused by a real or perceived missed call can ever constitute a mitigating circumstance for violation of Rule 40.” While in a particular case, and one such as this, the ten (10) game penalty may seem harsh, the purpose of Rule 40 is to protect Officials and ensure the integrity of our game. Therefore, any inappropriate conduct by Players vis-à-vis Officials cannot be condoned or tolerated.
At the same time, I do not believe the circumstances here warrant imposing a suspension of greater than ten (10) games. The NHLPA is correct that Mr. Vermette has been an exemplary citizen throughout his NHL career. He has not been the subject of any prior supplementary discipline or suspension of any kind and he has incurred only two major penalties in his entire NHL playing career. The conduct giving rise to his suspension here is, admittedly, an isolated incident that was clearly out of character for Mr. Vermette. He exhibited sincere remorse both at the hearing and in his prior apology delivered to Mr. Alphonso. The ten (10) game suspension mandated by Rule 40 is sufficient.
Vermette has already served four of his ten games. He’ll forfeit $97,222.22 as a result of the ban.
Calgary’s Dennis Wideman was suspended in February 2016 for a Category I offense for a check from behind on linesman Don Henderson, who is still sidelined with injuries as a result of the hit.
Most recently, Arizona’s Anthony DeAngelo was suspended three games for an altercation with linesman David Brisebois.