It was approaching Christmas in the early 1990s when Brad May first discovered the wonky world of NHL justice. Then a 21-year-old forward with the Buffalo Sabres, May had gone shopping during a road trip in Boston and bought himself a black Samsonite suitcase, a big one with wheels. He had never seen a suitcase with wheels before. Neither had his teammates. No one on the Sabres owned one, either, which made May particularly proud about what he judged to be a prudent discovery.
At least, until his teammates got wind of his purchase and levied their punishment on the second-year pro: $100, non-negotiable, owed immediately.
“Because I was too young to carry around a bag with wheels,” May says, still with a hint of disbelief. “How about that? I’m the smartest guy on the hockey team. I buy a suitcase with wheels. I’m the first one to do it. And they fine me $100. And now every person and their dog has a suitcase with wheels.”
Unfair? Maybe. Par for the course, even today? Absolutely.
During the past few weeks, players from a dozen NHL teams were interviewed for this piece and all confirmed the existence of some form of a fine system among their ranks. But everyone also requested anonymity. Their explanations ranged from the desire to avoid publicly discussing money to the oft-cited “what-happens-in-here-stays-in-here” code of NHL locker rooms. As one Metropolitan Division forward put it, “I don't know why it’s not more public, but there’s a reason no guys speak up about it.”
Just call it the NHL’s version of “taking a haircut.”