The NHL released its new Social Media Policy for players and team personnel last night — the last to do so in all the major sports leagues. The NHL states: “As per the new policy, there is a total “blackout period” on the use of social media on game days, which for players begins two hours prior to opening face-off and is not lifted until players have finished their post-game media obligations. The suggested blackout period for hockey operations staff is longer, beginning at 11 a.m. on game days.”

This sounds very reasonable. I follow a few hockey players on Twitter and I have never known one to tweet right before a game or directly after a game. Do I expect them to? Absolutely not. I expect the players to be focused on their game and to be dealing with their post-game interviews and other team business. Today a few bloggers and fans have been dismayed at the NHL’s so-called censorship, but there have certainly been justifications to pregame blackouts. The last thing a coach and team needs is to have their lineup announced to opponents prior to the game or injuries disclosed which is what has happened on a few rare occasions discussed here at ProHockeyTalk and the Washington Post.

As Greg Wyshynski at PuckDaddy states, pregame blackouts for the most part affect opponents, bookies and media, and the media is not affected too much since players are generally not available to the media before a game. Lindsay Applebaum in her Washington Post article quoted John Carlson of the Capitals: “I don’t anyway,” defenseman John Carlson, one of several Capitals with active Twitter accounts, told the The Post’s Katie Carrera today. “If some people are doing it, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea, anyway. I remember Ochocinco getting fined for tweeting things during a game by the Bengals, and that’s something that doesn’t need to happen.”

NHL statement: “Also, the new policy makes it clear that players and club personnel will be be held responsible for their social communications in the same manner in which they are held responsible for other forms of public communications. As a result, discipline is possible for any social media statements that have or are designed to have an effect prejudicial to the welfare of the League, the game of hockey or a member club, or are publicly critical of officiating staff.”

In a fair world, everyone could speak up and say what they want to about any topic, but let’s be honest, life is not like that, regardless how much we would like to pretend. There are ramifications to everything we do and say. And when an individual has a high profile, such as an NBA star, an NFL quarterback or an NHL hockey player, what they say reflects upon them, their team and everything associated with them. Everyone, regardless of who they are, should be held accountable and responsible for what they do and what they say. I do not think the NHL is out of line making this policy — the question will be where exactly will the line be drawn. This could well become an issue in the future.

As we have all learned one way or another, any digital medium has a way of spreading beyond one’s control. Such was the case with Mike Duco when he was signed with the Vancouver Canucks. While playing for the Florida Panthers during last season Duco made comments on his Twitter account about specific Canuck players during the playoffs. When his rights were traded to the Canucks, those comments were not viewed well by Canucks fans and the local media. Duco sincerely apologized for his comments and quickly closed his Twitter account and he has worked hard since then to repair the damage done by a few careless words.

Hockey players are part of a team. They are paid to play well for that team and represent them appropriately when not on the ice playing. Just as in any other profession where an individual is part of a large entity, there are ramifications to an individual’s actions. Would I go so far as to call it censorship? No. It is more in the line of diplomacy. And frankly, fans could learn a great deal from this new policy. The NHL has asked their players to “respect your audience” and “pause before posting … If you have to pause before posting your communication, then err on the side of caution by not posting it.” I would love to see fans take this up as well. Respect and courtesy. And if you cannot do either, do not post. One of my favorite sayings is that “courtesy doesn’t cost a dime — spread it around freely.”

A number of hockey players on Twitter spoke about new NHL policy and said it agreed with their own game day rules.

  • Paul Bissonnette   Paul Bissonnette — “People asking about NHL’s new policy on Twitter. I think its good. I don’t even play much and I don’t tweet on game days. Plenty of off days.”
  • Mike McKenna  Mike McKenna — “No problems with new NHL social media policy. Plenty fair. Mirrors my own rules when I had an account in-season the past 2 seasons. Happy to see the league views social media as a valuable asset. Makes it so much easier for fans to get to know us, interact, etc.”
  • Ray Kaunisto  Ray Kaunisto — “totally agree with this.”
  • Michael Grabner  Michael Grabner — “Heard there will be a social media policy in the NHL..good thing most our my tweets are about food, napping or video games #dontwanttobefined