Unfortunately, it seems that shenanigans, hijinks and blatantly illegal hits have marred one of the best first rounds we have ever seen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
You're probably getting to the point where you're tired of reading about suspensions, fines, hearings and controversies surrounding hits. I don't blame you one bit. Honestly, I'm to the point where I'm tired of writing about it. I'd rather write about the one-goal games, comebacks, upsets and great performances we've seen so far, and inevitably will see more of before mid-June.
It's plain as day that the NHL needs to figure something out. There is a problem. Players are taking liberties as much as ever, and the threat of suspensions and fines isn't getting the job done. Part of the problem is how random the suspensions seem to be, and part of the problem is that there is too much focus on injuries when levying punishments.
Luckily for the league, the Collective Bargaining Agreement is up this summer. This is a whole new opportunity for the NHL and the NHLPA to take a real, comprehensive stand on violence in the sport, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
Toward that, I have read the current CBA provisions on supplemental discipline, and come up with a few ideas to strengthen the league's system and make players think twice before they leave their feet to deliver a blow to an opponent's head.
(Sorry, Coyotes broadcaster Tyson Nash, but that was in no way, shape, or form a clean hit by Raffi Torres, and you only made yourself look like a homeristic idiot by saying what you said.)
(Sorry, James Neal, but you left your feet and happened to hit an opponent who had been smoking your team the whole series, while your team was down big in a must-win game. There is no explanation I'm going to buy on this one, especially when you went after the head of another really good player on the opposing team in the same damn shift.)
In the current CBA, Article 18 deals with some of the general rules of supplemental discipline. There is nothing here that would necessarily be affected by my ideas other than Article 18.3 (b), which says the "Maximum fining authority for a Player is $2,500.00."
Um, no. There isn't a player in the NHL who can't afford $2,500. For most of them, this is a paltry amount that will have no impact on anything. Of course, not everyone makes what Alex Ovechkin makes, so you need to be careful about this.
Up the amount a player can be fined for an illegal hit to 5 percent of the player's regular season cap figure, and make it stick.
Instead of threatening to fine players that much, actually do it. Imagine Shea Weber having to pay a $375,000 fine for his antics at the end of Game 1 of Predators-Red Wings in Nashville. Especially when the players don't make their salaries in the playoffs.
Yes, I know this seems excessive. But for those of us tired of watching players disrespect each other and the sport, it's high time the league started acting like it was taking this problem seriously.
Exhibit 8 of the CBA deals more specifically
with procedures surrounding supplemental discipline. This is where things get interesting.
Item 6 is called "Factors In Determining Supplemental Discipline." The five items listed include type of conduct, the offender's status (first-time or repeat), game situation and "Injury to the opposing Player(s) involved in the incident."
Change the component of the CBA that mandates an injury be considered in supplemental discipline.
No decision should ever come down to something like this. Either Weber did something worthy of a suspension, or he didn't. Now, that can't be a universal statement. In extreme cases, where serious, career-altering injuries appear to have been suffered, it is perfectly reasonable to look at a player's injury when dealing out discipline to an offender.
Also, if you find this offender has caused injuries with his egregious behavior in the past, it's perfectly fine to look at that as a part of this process. But to not suspend someone because they failed to injure an opponent is ridiculous, and it's an easy way out for Shanahan in the current system.
We're always hesitant to go too far in punishing teams for individual's actions that cross the line. Perhaps it's time to push that envelope a little bit.
Teams who lose players to multi-game suspensions -- or have a player disciplined more than once (fined or suspended) in a postseason -- may not replace that player in the lineup during the player's suspension.
In other words, repeat offenders within the two-month playoff season are going to really hurt their team.
Want to tow the line? Better be careful.
What does this idea entail? For starters, Weber -- who was fined for the Zetterberg hit -- could not be replaced in the Nashville lineup should he be suspended during these playoffs. If he's mandated to sit by a Shanahammer falling on him, the Predators will play a skater short in whatever game(s) he is out.
Same goes for Phoenix when Torres is suspended Friday for his hit on Marian Hossa. The Coyotes would have to go a skater short for the length of his suspension.
The point here is simple: Teams will be forced to keep players like Torres in line. A guy with his past shouldn't feel like he can run around and hit people in the head, anyway. But if he does, he doesn't just have to answer to the NHL, because he can really hurt his team if he does something stupid.
My last idea is absolutely radical and possibly nonsensical. I am fully aware it will never happen, but I'm throwing it out there anyway. The point behind it? Players dream of that day in June where they are crowned champion and can finally hoist the Cup they've worked their entire lives for. They dream of the day with the Cup, and having their name etched on history.
I'm not overly cruel, but part of this can -- and probably should -- be taken away from those whose behavior hurts the team they're supposedly working so hard for (not to mention cashing in-season paychecks from).
If a player is suspended multiple times in the playoffs or once for three or more games, that player forfeits his right to get his name on the Stanley Cup if his team wins it all.
Again, this is a radical idea. But think about it.
You want to play physical? No one has a problem with that. Play with an edge? Go right ahead. We like that, actually. Show us how badly you want the Stanley Cup. But there's a line. Don't cross it, or you will pay the price.
Right now, that price clearly isn't high enough. That's why Torres is the seventh player suspended for an illegal hit since Sunday. Barring a sudden reversal in how things have played out, it's likely we'll have hit eight (or higher) by the time you read this.
It's too much, especially with all the good the playoffs have brought on. The league needs to make sure the focus is on that, and not on the Raffi Torreses of the hockey world, guys who just don't know a good thing when they see it.