NHL may need to take drastic measures

SCOTT MORRISON

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Chris Simon on Ryan Hollweg.

Steve Downie on Dean McAmmond.

Jesse Boulerice on Ryan Kesler.

A two-hander to the head, a head hunt and a cross-check to the face, what a hat trick.

Simon got 25 games. Downie got 20 games. Boulerice was handed 25 games yesterday.

And it just keeps happening again and again.

A night after Boulerice took down Kesler, and two weeks after Downie flew into McAmmond, in a game in Nashville on Thursday night, there was Jordin Tootoo charging into Phoenix Coyotes rookie Daniel Winnik, in the opinion of many aiming for the head, but thankfully missing.

Nothing changes.

It can be argued, and rightly so, that the number of heinous acts has decreased over the years, in large part because chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell has proved tougher and tougher with his suspensions. But they still keep happening and, of late, at an alarming frequency. Now, in hockey as in real life, there are no absolute deterrents when it comes to punishment. As has often been mentioned, there are death penalties and life sentences in the real world, but people keep committing murders.

In the NHL, the suspensions get bigger, but the stupidity keeps happening, which begs the question: Do you just accept that stuff will happen, or do you increase the severity of the penalties again to see if there is a further reduction in the occurrences?

We all know the answer.

It's interesting, but Andrew Long, the kid Boulerice clubbed on the head in junior, leading to a one-year suspension, was quoted the other day in the Vancouver Province as calling for a lifetime suspension for Boulerice.

"I know the suspension is not going to fit the crime," he told the Province. "I just know it. He shouldn't be allowed to play ever again. He was given another opportunity and look what he did ... He should be suspended for life."

That certainly would prevent him from becoming a three-peat offender and you could easily justify a lifetime ban when you consider his offences both in junior and pro. Interestingly, all three of the latest offenders are not strangers to supplementary discipline, at whatever level they have played.

So, yes, a lifetime suspension for any of those types of offences is an option. Of course, determining what is worth 25 games and what is worth a lifetime ban is not a job we'd like to have, and it would be a tough one to get by the union unless the players decide they absolutely want the nonsense out of the game.

Perhaps, though, an interim step is best. It might be as simple as taking the suspension threshold to 40 games, or more. And by extending the blame and the punishment to not just the player, but also to the coach and the team.

Once upon a time, remember, brawling was commonplace in the NHL and eventually it decided it was something the game no longer needed. So the league put some teeth in its rules, suspending a player who leaves the bench and the coach whose bench he left, both for multiple games. The team also was fined.

When was the last time you saw a bench-clearing brawl in the NHL?

That's not to say it won't happen again, but the frequency certainly has decreased. The same might apply to targeted shoulder hits to the head, swinging sticks to the head and cross-checks to the head. Suspend the player and the coach and fine the team.

Now, the simple matter of respect and the fear of a suspension should be enough to police a player. But it isn't working well enough. The coach and the team are, for now, the only ones who can take away what matters most to a player -- his employment. Think Flyers coach John Stevens. If he was suspended for a handful of games for the Downie hit, then suspended another handful of games for the Boulerice cross-check. Think about the team, if it was fined $100,000 for the Downie hit and fined another $100,000 or more for the Boulerice hit, neither would be excited about the prospect of having either player back any time soon?

Ah, probably not.

It can be argued that a coach has more control over a player on the bench, than he does a player on the ice. Fair enough. But perhaps upping the ante and those affected by acts of stupidity might serve as a greater deterrent. Maybe a player who doesn't have respect for his opponent will at least be moved by the chance of a loss of employment, or the overriding guilt of inflicting direct pain on his team. Respect and two-month sabbaticals, obviously, aren't enough.


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