|By 5of7 (Antoine Vermette) [CC BY-SA 2.0],|
via Wikimedia Commons
For this reason I was shocked to find out that on Friday 2/17 Vermette chose to appeal the suspension. He is hoping that Commissioner Gary Bettman will reduce his suspension to five or possibly even three games! I understand why he feels that a reduction of suspension could happen, recent history is in favor of such reductions. Dennis Wideman got his 20 game suspension reduced to 10 last season despite Bettman's clearly feeling that the original suspension was justified. An interesting note both Dennis Wideman and Antonie Vermette are represented by the same agent, Allen Walsh, likely it is Walsh who encouraged Vermette to appeal since it worked out well for Wideman last season. Another occasion when a player got a reduced suspension through appeal was back in 2008 Mike Peca. Peca had his suspension reduced to five games after another category II violation of rule 40.3, in his case it was for grabbing an official rather than slashing him with a stick. So we can see in more than one instance that when the players association became involved they were able to negotiate a reduced suspension and fine for these types of violations. The On-Ice Officials Association however has been voicing concern that by not sticking to the penalties outlined in the NHL rule book for the Abuse of Official rules it places the officials, who are not suited up for the physical contact that they players expect to occur, in a risky environment. There is evidence to back up this concern, the official involved in the Dennis Wideman incident last season has still not been able to return to work.
Right now the hearing for Antonie Vermette is tentatively scheduled for Thursday 2/23 in New York. Vermette will have to appear in person for this hearing with Bettman. It is theoretically possible that Bettman could reduce the length of Vermette's suspension, but he also has the power to increase the suspension and or amount of lost of wages. I think that this is a very risky gamble on Vermette's part. Yes in the Wideman case last season there was a reduced suspension on appeal. In that case however Wideman had taken a hard hit with a resultant head injury which he claimed to have disoriented him. In addition Wideman was looking down at the ice when he ran into the official and claims not to have see him there. I still believe that he should have had to serve the full 20 game suspension, but he was at least able to come up with a defense for his actions, and a case however shaky that his knocking down of the referee was accidental. Mike Peca was able to show convincing evidence that he made physical contact with official Greg Kimmerly, by grabbing his arm, for the purposes of getting his attention to discuss a call that he disagreed with. In Vermette's case I can not conceive of any defense that he could present, he was looking right at Linesman Alphonso when he smacked him with his stick, and he made no attempt to talk to the official after the incident. Also if you are trying to get the attention of an official in hopes of making your case for an unfavorable call, or in this case puck drop at a face-off, striking said official with a stick is not the best way to begin such a discussion. Simply saying you lost your temper momentarily is not sufficient defense in my opinion to warrant a reduction in suspension. In fact if I were in Betman's place I would be strongly tempted to increase the suspension as a message to the league that the officials are not to be attacked in any way, that this is a serious offence and an issue that is entirely unacceptable. On top of that to waste the time of the players association and Hockey Operations Office to appeal and indefensible action should be discouraged, and increasing Vermette's suspension or loss of wages would effectively send such a message.
There is also speculation that the announcement of the automatic 10 game suspension was delayed by more than a day because the player's association was already trying to convince Bettman that the 10 game suspension was too severe a punishment. If that is the case then Vermette's decision to appeal seems even more ridiculous, since the initial request placed for reduced suspension was not granted. I hope that Bettman will at least uphold the full 10 game suspension, as I mentioned before the officials are not wearing the necessary protective gear to be involved in any kind of physical altercation. In every sport I know of a violation involving any sort of physical contact with the officials carries one of the stiffest penalties available. That is how it should be the position of official should be respected by all players, even when they do not agree with a call. Players should have the right to voice their opinion, but not through any type of physical attack. I guess we will all have to wait and see what Bettman's decision will be after the hearing tomorrow.