I don’t think it is a stretch to say that yesterday’s 15 game suspension of Mark Bell was a surprise to everyone because it seemed to come out of nowhere. There is no real precedent for the NHL to suspend players for their off-ice conduct and certainly not with a suspensionof the magnitude of 15 games. So my question is, why Mark Bell, why now?
To review, prior to last season Mark Bell was caused an accident while driving impaired and to make matters worse, he fled the scene of the accident. This past summer he plead guilty and will face up to 6 months in jail time which he will serve at the conclusion of this NHL season. It seemed that the Judge didn’t feel it was necessary to punish Bell more by forcing him to miss part or all of the NHL season. But apparently Gary Bettman didn’t see it the same way.
“Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Gary Bettman’s reason for suspending Bell is because he didn’t conduct himself in an exemplary way off the ice. So the question I have is, what is exemplary conduct? Is drinking and driving but not causing an accident exemplary? If not, shouldn’t Jay Bouwmeester be facing a suspension in the very near future for pleading guilting to driving while impaired? Apparently this is not the case and driving while under the influence of alcohol does fall within Bettman’s view of ‘exemplary conduct’ since Ian White never received a suspension for his DUI charge or subsequent charge of driving with a suspended licence. Does driving recklessly and at high speeds causing an accident and killing someone fall within Bettman’s view of exemplary conduct? Apparently so as current Ottawa Senator Dany Heatley was never suspended when he plead guilty to vehicular homicide. And what about underage drinking? Is that exemplary conduct? Apparently so as Jordan Staal has yet to receive a suspension or any other punishment from the league.
One could easily argue that Bell’s suspension is warrented and that what Bell did is at least as bad or far worse than the other cases I described above, but if what Bell did is worth a 15 game suspension (and Bettman said it would ahve likely been more except Bell has shown good progress in turning his life and his alcohol dependency around), wouldn’t one or all of the other cases I described above be worthy of at least a game or two suspension? I would think so. To me this Bell suspension wreaks of piling on and probably a bit of not wanting the NHL to look soft on the conduct of its players in light of the Michael Vick situation and how the NFL handled that (indefinitely suspending Vick). I will try not to get into a debate as to whether Bell should be suspended but unless Bettman is going to follow through and suspend guys like Bouwmeester and Staal then I can only conclude that the idea of suspending players for off ice conduct is not a new policy and is at best inconsistent discipline or at worst piling on and in either case is just more evidence of Gary Bettman’s incompetence as a commissioner.