The player safety division of the NHL examines questionable plays and determines if additional discipline is required. Here is the process that an incident like Shawn Thornton’s undergoes:
Game watchers collect all available footage of questionable plays. The senior VP of player safety confers with other officials. If the play is deemed legal, the inquiry is over. In 2011-12, 63 out of more than 800 reviews went on to a hearing.
If the group decides suspension may be warranted, a hearing via telephone is arranged with the player. As in Thornton’s case, the player has a right to an in-person hearing if the possible suspension is six or more games. The player is suspended until that hearing.
Should senior safety officials deem suspension appropriate, they must determine the length of the suspension. Only now are a player’s prior history and any injury caused taken into account. Comparable plays and discipline assessed for those plays are also considered.
The NHL notifies the team’s general manager, the player, and the NHL Players Association of its decision. Once the appropriate parties are notified, a video explaining the reasoning behind the discipline is released.