For infractions like eating an apple in the hot tub to simply being cheered by family members, NHL players are fined by their team's kangaroo court.
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.”