Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Intent and Extent: A Fool's Errand, an Impossible Standard

Brendan Shanahan has drawn the ire of hockey fans across the National Hockey League as he and members of the Department of Player Safety have been busily handing out suspensions for dangerous and questionable hits in the first round of the playoffs. The anger has come not so much from the fact that a player has drawn a suspension, but because of a perceived lack of consistency in the application of justice by the League.

It seems like a pretty straightforward exercise: run a player into the boards; perpetrate a dangerous hit; intend to harm another player intentionally or recklessly and receive your punishment. And the punishment for a player from one team is the same for a player from a different team for the same kind of infraction.

Uh... not so fast.

There are two little words that carry huge consequences that have muddled this whole process.

Intent and extent.

And they create a no win situation for the League and continue to put player's safety at risk.

By using a purely subjective standard called "intent", i.e. what did the player mean to do, and the resulting "extent," or outcome of the play as determinants the type of punishment, if any, that is doled out to a player that executes a borderline or dangerous hit, it is no wonder that we continue to see these types of hits and dangerous plays.

And for the League to use intent and extent as the standard for meting out justice for dangerous plays is a fool's errand.

It can't be done properly.

Let's look at intent for a moment. Even the most egregious offenders when it come to dangerous hits never say that it was their "intent" to hurt another player. Who is to say, and how is the League to judge, what intent might be in any situation? What happens in that split second on the ice and at top speed is impossible to judge as to intent. When one player has another lined up for what could be a questionable hit, how is the League judging intent? Maybe previous occurrences of reckless behavior? Even that is a poor barometer of intent. Could the player have pulled up? Again, a split second decision in the heat of the moment, and the thought processes are known only to the player.

So how does the League determine intent? I would submit that they cannot, and any attempt to do so is just a wildly speculative guess on their part. Even worse, it establishes such a vague basis for judging these types of hits or plays that it is essentially no standard at all.

Every parent has had the situation with their children where something goes wrong, and one of the first things out their innocent mouths is "I didn't mean to..." We as parents know that judging intent is next to impossible. More often than not, "I didn't mean to" translates into "I didn't think something bad would happen."

What the League is doing with the non-standard of intent is in essence saying "I hope nothing bad happens." That is going to lead to a disastrous outcome on the ice, and is just insane.

The other aspect of these types of plays is using the extent of an injury, or outcome of the hit to determine the severity, if any of the punishment. In a word, this is outrageous. We all have witnessed players that were the victims of dangerous hits who, fortunately were able to get back up. In determining the level of discipline, the League has said something to the effect that "the player wasn't seriously hurt" and that fact mitigated the level of punishment. This standard, in my estimation, continues to invite these types of hits. Run a player and hope he gets up. If he does, you get nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

This is why Shea Weber could skate with a fine and Carl Hagelin got a three game suspension.

Regardless of outcome, a dangerous hit is a dangerous hit. For the League to fail to acknowledge that and let outcome mitigate the punishment due the offender is taking what should be a hard and fast standard and making it is essence non-existent. A five minute boarding major for one player becomes a multi-game suspension for another player, depending on the extent of any injury. The unequal application of the punishment for the types of hits that are dangerous is unacceptable and is an environment rife for inconsistencies.

And it makes player safety secondary.

As long as the NHL persists in using these nebulous and subjective standards, we will continue to have these types of hits and the resulting injuries or potential injuries to players. It is time for the League to get rid of the canard of judging a player's intent and extent of the damage done before deciding the level of punishment. For these types of hits to be greatly reduced and player safety improved, the League has to adopt clearly defined standards. More importantly, there has to be a consistent application of those standards, regardless of the offender.

Do this, and you will restore a measure of sanity to the game we all love.

And we will end the foolishness of trying to judge intent and punishing a player based on the extent of the injury inflicted

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