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Friday, February 17, 2017

Vermette Gets a 10 Game Suspension for Striking an Official with his Stick

Antoine Vermette
By 5of7 (Antoine Vermette) [CC BY-SA 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
On Tuesday night, in the final period of the Ducks game versus the Wild, Antione Vermette committed what has to be one of the dumbest acts I have ever seen. Immediately following a face-off, which his team lost, Vermette glared at linesman Shandor Alphonso and swiped at him with his stick, smacking him in the back of the thigh. This action appeared to be completely unprovoked and was clearly an intentional lash at the linesman, as there were no other players in the area and the puck was already traveling in the opposite direction.
He was of course immediately ejected from the game with a game misconduct penalty for abuse of officials. At first, when the penalty was called, I was as puzzled as the rest of the players, coaches, and announcers seemed to be. I had been following the puck and the players as they skated away down the ice and completely missed Vermette's inexplicable loss of temper and resultant ridiculous actions against the linesman. I had to re-watch the replay once the penalty had been announced specifically following Vermette to catch the hit--it was that far away from where the game was continuing to progress. Vermette has made so far this season eight goals and 14 assists. Clearly, he is not the leading performer for the Ducks, but having any player out for such a significant amount of time is bound to have a negative effect on the team, especially in the unlucky case where another player might take injury, and then leave the team further depleted while still maintaining the full salary cap hit for Vermette. I sincerely hope that this does not become an issue for the Ducks, but the level of irresponsibility both for his own actions and for the well being of his team that Vermette displayed was inexcusable.
   
Vermette's actions were a violation of rule 40.3 Physical Abuse of an Official Category II.  This indicates that Vermette showed no evidence of intent to harm or injure linesman Shandor Alphonso, and as such this calls for a game misconduct and automatic suspension of 10 games. With rule 40, as opposed to other game misconduct violations, while entitled to an appeal, it does not take place through the player safety committee. Commissioner Gary Bettman has the authority to determine if the suspension is warranted and what other disciplinary action the player will be subjected to as a result of the incident. As there is no upside in an appeal of this nature and there is potential for an even more severe punishment, it is unsurprising that Vermette, while participating in the phone hearing for the incident, did not as yet exercise his right to appeal the judgement. In addition to the automatic 10 game suspension, Vermette will also forfeit $97,222.22 of his salary this year.  These funds are placed in the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
   
Given the recent history of rule 40 violations, specifically the incident with Dennis Wideman last season, there is still some speculation that Vermette very well may decide to appeal Bettman's decision. While Wideman's violation was a category I violation of rule 40.2 which carried an automatic 20 game suspension, was reduced to 10 games through an appeal involving the NHLPA--the circumstances were very different. In Wideman's case, he had just received a fairly hard hit, which he claimed disoriented him and was heading to the bench. He was looking down when he ran into the referee so claims not to have seen him there, and that the hit was accidental. I personally do not believe that his hard hit on the referee in question was accidental, but at least there was some theoretically viable defense that he could come up with. Given that the referee in question in the Wideman case has still not returned to work I think that Wideman got extremely lucky, and that he should have served the full 20 game suspension. Vermett's case however, does not have any angle where an observer might be able to entertain doubt that the contact was not completely intentional.   As such I believe it would be incredibly foolish for him to attempt to appeal the outcome of his hearing.
   
Bettman's role according to the guidelines set forth for rule 40 violations is simply to determine if there is sufficient evidence to support the automatic suspension laid out in the rule book. In this case, with the video showing the incident and the fact that there is no possible interpretation of the event in which Vermette might have made accidental or incidental contact with the linesman, it is a pretty open and shut case. I think it likely that if Vermette were to attempt an appeal, Bettman might increase the severity of the suspension and related monetary penalties already assessed. He was very vocal as to his belief that the arbitrators in the Wideman case did not follow the guidelines as written in the NHL rule book and was quite angry that his ruling was overturned. This is why I believe that if Vermette appealed and was unsuccessful he would be given an even harsher penalty. Bettman would likely use Vermette's case as an example to attempt to dissuade any further appeals to the rule 40 decisions. Or, at the very least, dissuade players from trying to appeal when there is no possibility that the players actions were not intentional.

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