The Ontario Hockey League, generally doesn't have a double standard for suspending players for crossing the line on the ice, contrary to what is often stated by "the OHL hates [insert team here]" crowd. One could put together a formidable lineup with players who have received a stiff suspension for a check to the head or another type of dangerous, reckless play. The who's-who from the past two seasons includes marquee NHL first-round picks Sean Monahan, Max Domi, Scott Laughton and Robby Fabbri.
Star status typically has not, nor should it be a factor with supplemental discipline. One might think, then, it would follow when the league, following "further consideration of the incident," decides the suitably chastened player has learned his lesson. This week, two days after the end of the Memorial Cup of course, the OHL did the right thing by reducing Windsor Spitfires star Josh Ho-Sang suspension for a shove that caused London's Zach Bell to break his right fibula from 15 games to six. It was the right call, but it could have interesting consequences for the league, if not for players whose NHL draft stock is not so high.
One should keep in mind that Ho-Sang had a couple of aces of up his sleeves. One is that his agent, Ian Pulver, in Spitfires coach Bob Boughner's phrasing, "stuck his neck out" to take up the appeal. (Under OHL rules, a player's team can only appeal a ban of 20 games or more.) The second, as Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir noted, was the scuttlebutt "that Ho-Sang might play in Europe next season to avoid losing a quarter of a key developmental season." The playing-in-Europe talk sounded like an obvious smokescreen; the Spitfires would have had to provide a release for that to occur.
That is all well and good, but what about the players that don't have similar blessings? Ho-Sang, after his 85-point sophomore season that put him in range to be a first or second-rounder in the NHL draft, is a high priority client for his agency.
Many other players in the OHL, especially those who are 19 or 20 and deemed to no longer be showing high NHL potential, aren't as high on their advisers' speed dials. Who advocates for the 19-year-old who plays on the third line, or the player who's too young to have become an asset to a NHL organization?
One convenience sample here is Ottawa 67's defenceman Troy Henley. The 17-year-old, who is not in his NHL draft season and not in position to take his talents to Europe, was suspended indefinitely for a match penalty during a game on March 11. The OHL website still lists his suspension as "TBA." Henley is also headed into a key developmental season where he's trying to get drafted.
One cannot prove those were factors; it's just that the league should be conscious of the optics.
Commissioner David Branch told the Windsor Star, "It’s not the first time we’ve been asked to reconsider and I suspect it may not be the last." Credit the OHL for realizing the initial 15-game ban was over the top; don't get too hung up on how that elicited great media hue and cry and then it was quietly reduced two days after the season ended.
The OHL got this right eventually. May it do right by all the players when it comes to giving leniency on suspensions.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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