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Video: ‘The message is not being heard’ when it comes to illegal hits, suspensions

Dec 19, 2013, 7:30 AM EDT

The number of suspensions keeps piling up, as do the number of games players are getting banned, and the ugly, illegal hits that cause this.

December has not been a month to remember for the NHL when it comes to supplemental discipline. A total of nine suspensions have been handed down as of Thursday morning, totaling 38 games. That’s after just 18 days this month.

More is expected, with Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson scheduled to have a phone hearing with the league’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday for this hit on Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Brayden Schenn on Tuesday.

Wilson was given a major penalty for charging and was ejected from the game.

On Wednesday, the NHL on NBCSN panel, including Mike Milbury and Keith Jones, discussed this recent plague of illegal and dangerous hits that are not only resulting in players getting suspended, but others getting injured.

“We got a problem because they’re not getting it. The message is not being heard here,” said Milbury.

  1. wallio - Dec 19, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    Is it that the message isn’t being heard? Or is it that everything is a penalty now? Before the great lockout of 2005, you never heard of ANYONE getting a “phone hearing” or a “face-to-face”. I don’t think they even existed as such. You might have heard from the discipline czar 2-3 times a SEASON. Only whhen somebody did something really bad, and you what, nobody ever questioned those rare suspensions. Now it’s 2-3 times a week. Suspensions, fines, hell Shanny comes out so say he isn’t going to do anything now. And now every decision is questioned, as it should be. Go back to that, let the players police themselves.

    • drewsylvania - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:03 AM

      We’re already seeing how well that’s working out, since the punishments aren’t a deterrent. You want more players who are walking dead?

    • hairpie2 - Dec 19, 2013 at 12:14 PM

      How does anyone give Wallio a thumbs down for this comment? Its exactly right on the money.

      • sabatimus - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:14 PM

        It’s easy: there’s a little “thumb-down” icon on to the right of the “thumb up” icon.

    • hockeyflow33 - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:26 PM

      The players policing themselves is very important and should never be taken out of the game. That being said, there needs to be a secondary source to punish players and teams when retribution isn’t an option.

      From the NHL’s side, they need to protect themselves from concussion lawsuits and I think that’s a major driving force with all these suspensions.

  2. hockeydon10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    The only way they’ll start getting it is to increase the penalty to the offending player and punish the team.

    Increase suspensions by ~50% as a first step.

    Make the team pay an amount equal to the suspended player’s lost salary into some concussion fund for retired players.

    When a player is suspended his team plays those suspended games without that roster spot being filled.

    They also need to encourage the refs to eject players for far less than these recent boarding calls we’ve been seeing.

    In short, if they really want to get rid of this crap they need to put the hammer down on both the players and the teams that the players are on.

    • upper90cheese - Dec 19, 2013 at 8:16 AM

      The NHL has become a Nanny state. It’s the players committing these offenses, it’s up to the players to stop it.

      Colin Campbells pawn Shanahan is a joke.

    • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:02 AM

      Think about what you’re proposing. I get the fact that you think the team should pay for the misdoings of a teammate. However, you’ve got to think in terms of a business as well, because that’s what hockey is, and think about the harm you may be doing to the health of a team. Firstly, your suggestion has to be scalable & sustainable. Based on your example Thornton would be suspended for say 22 games. The Bruins would have to play those games down a man. With the travel, the length of the schedule, 3 games in 4 nights, 2 games in 24 hours, then you’re increasing the risk of injuries. Imagine if Thornton is suspended on the last game of the season. Does that mean the Bruins are down a man going into the playoffs when they play every second night. There is no way this would fly with the fly with the NHLPA.

      • physunknown - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:11 AM

        Maybe not 1:1 team punishment, but I agree, there should be some consequences outside of losing the player for that time. Hockey is a team sport. It’s up to the team to keep each other from putting the rest of the group in that position.

      • jcantwell82 - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:57 AM

        Well, I think that would be the point from a business side. To make change you have to hurt the business side, make it happen from the top down. When there are guys who start to cost their team like that, that don’t have much ice time, are close to zero point getters, etc., then they won’t employ those guys. I’m a Flyers fan and HATE having Rosehill dressed, not that he has had a suspension, but all he’s just a liability as a minus player and provides to hockey skills. He’s not a hockey player, which is the case for most of these guys getting the long suspensions. If those players cause the team that much harm, they won’t be on a team, won’t be out there to make these plays, and then the occurrences go down. I don’t think a team will hurt that much when they are missing a 5-7 minute guy on the bench. Heck, most of those guys don’t even see the ice in a close 3rd period game.

        Is it a drastic change that would hurt teams tremendously? Definitely. But if they want change, that would be the quickest way to make it happen.

        For long suspensions, maybe scale them down. A 1-3 game suspension you are down a man those games, a 4-8 you are down 3 games, etc. capping at maybe 5 games?

      • hockeydon10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:34 AM

        jcantwell82 gets it. There will be a brief learning curve until teams simply don’t put up with guys like that on their roster. Or if a guy like that is putting up points they’ll coach that garbage out of him.

        If the team plays down one or two guys and it causes injury, that team will lose more games. Then the team will make sure that crap doesn’t happen any more.

      • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 12:38 PM

        Good luck trying to get anyone to accept a change to Article 16.4 Certainly won’t happen before Sept 15, 2022

        (c) Except in case of emergency, there shall be no reduction of the required minimum Playing Rosters of the Clubs, below eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders.

      • hockeydon10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        Because the PA would have to agree to it, the only place to start is before the next CBA comes up.

        Just like mandatory helmets and mandatory visors, there has to be a push before hand to get anything that major changed.

    • jpelle82 - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      i dont like the idea of not filling the roster spot. i get where you’re coming from but it can get even more dangerous due to fatigue…guys get tired and tend to take penalties when they arent moving their feet, usually hooking and holding but highsticking can be dangerous. that and you tend to put yourself in more vulnerable positions when you’re tired, plenty of opportunity to get hurt. its punishment enough to have to call up ahl talent sometimes. not to mention if the offender happens to be a goalie (rare but not impossible) then you’re left with one goalie…what happens if he gets hurt?…compromises the integrity of the game.

    • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      Good luck trying to get anyone to accept a change to Article 16.4 Certainly won’t happen before Sept 15, 2022

      (c) Except in case of emergency, there shall be no reduction of the required minimum Playing Rosters of the Clubs, below eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders.

    • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      hockeydon10, making the visors and helmets mandatory added an element of safety, whereas removing an player from the roster doesn’t make the game safer. You can’t compare both, and you can’t change the structure of the game. You’ve got to look deeper at the problem to find the root cause, and then find a solution.

      • hockeydon10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        Wow. I wasn’t going for a direct comparison of the two rules to the proposed rule.

        I was going for an explanation that one has to start somewhere and that might as well be now. Waiting until the 11th hour guarantees failure. Starting now means hammering out something that does change this new-ish culture.

        (Oh, and one can change the structure of the game. Just as it’s been done in the past, it could be done again. It merely requires the different parties to agree to it.)

        It also doesn’t have to be the final solution. One can overshoot with suggestions of severe penalties and then settle for something that’s lesser, yet still bad enough that it changes the culture of the constant boarding and head-shots. The point is to do something to get the players and the teams to take action so that by the time the next CBA is being negotiated everyone has an idea of what they all want out of it.

  3. kastout11 - Dec 19, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    The penalties need to be more harsh. NBC Sports was talking about this all happening after the 2004 lockout when they took away the redline and tried to eliminate the clutching and grabbing, so the speed of the game would increase. I agree the game is faster now, but you see a lot more of these vicious hits. They also talked about taking away roster spots for suspensions so you could not dress someone if another guy is serving a suspension. I think increasing the suspensions and eliminating roster spots during suspensions would be a start. Then you would be hurting the team also, and most hockey players put the team first, and that would discourage the dirty hits.

    • hockeydon10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 8:37 AM

      Good to see they’re calling for eliminating roster spots. I love that idea.

      If that were to happen teams would actually coach players to avoid those hits. They would internally punish players that hurt the team with less ice time or healthy scratches after their suspension is over. Marginal players would be demoted to AHL in favor of a guy that plays hard but clean enough not to get suspended.

      • hockey412 - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:37 AM

        Not sure you can eliminate roster spots – health risk for the remaining players.

      • hockeyflow33 - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:30 PM

        Tell me the last time you heard about a union unconditionally giving up member slots?

    • 7mantel - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:49 AM

      Agree that they should increase the punishment ! 10 games for coming off bench to fight 5 games for a blatant foul is crazy !

  4. detroitpride - Dec 19, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    Since when did the NHL become a non contract sport? There are going to be big hits… NHL is going down the tubes fast

    • drewsylvania - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      Not sure if you even watch hockey these days.

    • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:06 AM

      How is that? Since 1993 the NHL went say it’s revenue grom from $400 million profits to $3.2 billion.

    • hockeydon10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      It’s not big hits they’re worried about. It’s dirty hits.

  5. physunknown - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    If they really want to stop these kinds of hits, then how about actually acting like it? Take the injury assessment out of the process. You throw someone head first into the boards, the punishment should be the same whether the player gets up and skates away or is taken off on a stretcher. Letting the severity of the injury dictate the length of the suspension simply makes players think, “well, if I elbow him in the head *just lightly enough*…” or, “Sure, I can see his numbers, so this would clearly be a check from behind, and his head is vulnerable, but I’m not skating that fast; he’ll feel it, but it won’t be too bad…” Stop sending the mixed messages.

    Of course, the league has to also realize that this might be effectively legislating contact out of the game.

  6. patthehockeyfan - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    Muckleflugga and I had differing opinions on the Steve Moore story yesterday. Here is part of how I responded to him this morning:

    “I love the sport; however, I am growing increasingly disenchanted with the game … the game that includes fighting and illegal checks, the game that injures a player so that he has to be carted off the ice on a stretcher, the game that has handed out 9 suspensions so far just in the month of December, the game that includes a ‘code’ that one must fight, and, most importantly, the game that gives players concussions.

    It is a given that players will be injured. Most of these guys will spend the rest of their lives with aches and pains; some possibly walking with a slight limp; some unable to pick up anything of weight with an arm that was injured, etc. I believe these guys know this going in, and play the game anyway. I don’t think the players want or expect a career-ending injury, nor do they expect or fully grasp the lasting effects of concussions.

    Seeing athletes suffering the after-effects of concussions is why I wrote. It’s devastating, and it’s something that HAS TO STOP in the game and sport.

    This isn’t about Bertuzzi. It’s more about the violence that’s ruining not only a beautiful sport; but, men’s lives.


  7. joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    You can’t make drastic changes like eliminating roster spots. This will have a direct impact on the business model of the NHL, and will never be accepted by the NHLPA because this will have to be included in the CBA. Before making any decisions, and I’ve written about this here before, there needs to be a worldwide consortium made up of representatives from every role, at every level of the sport. We need to look at how the game is being thought at every elite level.

    If you’re coaching an elite team of young players (12,13 or 14 years old) you want to win. You use all legal tactics you can to make your team better. One aspect you’d want to teach them is protecting the puck, which means when playing the puck along the boards you’d teach your player to turn his back to protect the puck and then skate out with it. This carries to junior and the pros, and then you get more checking from behind..

    You need to look at the root cause, and the equipment before making drastic decisions. Otherwise any solution is just a band-aid solution.

    • hockeyflow33 - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:31 PM

      If you can believe it joey, I’m your lone thumbs up. I actually agree with you here haha.

      • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:38 PM

        hehehe! Finally! What took you so long to come around? You must be a ex hockey player. 😉

  8. amityvillefun - Dec 19, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    There is nothing wrong with a good, solid body check. However, taking a run at a guy with the intent of “taking him out” is what they need to get rid of. There isn’t a fan out there that wants to see their favorite players getting injured.

    It’s a shame that good sportsmanship is being lost.

    Saying that the “players need to police themselves” is not the answer anymore. It doesn’t work. The enforcers can’t “enforce” if the person doing the deed turtles and acts like a coward, a la Claude Lemieux and others of his ilk.

    Players need to take responsibility for their actions. If you want to catch someone with their head down in order to knock their lights out, well, you should be just as prepared for the repercussions that SHOULD come along with it! Otherwise, hold up a bit, and go for the puck instead of trying to take a player’s head off.

    While I enjoy the hitting aspect of hockey, the allure for me is the speed and finesse of the game as well as the team play. If I wanted to see people getting their brains knocked out, I’d watch more boxing and the UFC.

    • hockey412 - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      You mean like Chara did on Max, right? That’s what you mean?

      Orpik’s hit (no doubt what you are mumbling about) isn’t covered by this article. Neal’s hit is, and Thornton’s definitely is.

      Good, solid body checks as you call them are not what it’s addressing.

      • amityvillefun - Dec 19, 2013 at 12:26 PM

        I see no “mumbling” in my comment whatsoever. It’s actually pretty well written.

        A “clean hit” shouldn’t have an injury as an end result in my eyes. And what Chara did to Max wasn’t “clean” in my eyes either. Intentional? Maybe. Maybe not. Seeing the way Chara usually plays, I’m inclined to believe it wasn’t. If Chara was a dirty player, you’d see things like that every game.

        Do you want to see Crosby lined up by a “clean hit” and taken out for the rest of the season? I doubt it. You want to watch him play I would think.

        I, for one, think that a “clean hit” should result in both players getting back up and finishing the game.

    • physunknown - Dec 19, 2013 at 2:02 PM

      Do you think Orpik’s hit on Eriksson was clean or dirty? Marc Savard hasn’t played in 3 years because of a clean hit. Not every injury is the result of a dirty play. That kind of thinking really will lead to the elimination of all contact from the sport.

  9. ziplock10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    What is complete HS is when Gudbranson hits Fehr, but since Fehr isn’t injured, no major fine or suspension…. HS!!!!!

    • ziplock10 - Dec 19, 2013 at 6:15 PM

      Even Berube agreed Schenn should’ve protected himself.

  10. pdmjr - Dec 19, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    I blame Sidney Crosby and George Bush for the violence in hockey

  11. jkulha86 - Dec 19, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    If you start kicking repeat offenders out of the league and forcing them to work normal jobs, I’m sure they’ll receive the message pretty quick.

    • nunan - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:31 AM


    • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      yes. just like the death penalty has reduced gun violence. There’s and old saying; never use a canon to kill a fly.

  12. blackandorangeforlife - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    I wonder how much of a difference it would be if they played by the pre 2004 lockout rules…….Would we see less injuries?

    • joey4id - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:42 PM

      All these suspensions are giving the NHL a lot of bad publicity. There are shedding the light on player conduct, injuries, and the safety of the game. All of which can be getting the attention of some politicians. The NHL can be proactive by commissioning an independence committee to assess the problem, or react after some political entry forces their hand.

  13. nunan - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    It’s happening the way it should happen. Slowly. Everybody wants change over night and it’s not realistic. The worst thing that could happen is that drastic, over the top changes be made immediately just to appease the fans or some politically correct third party and then ruin the game entirely. The players and the owners clearly don’t mind the way the game is played right now and they’re really the only people that matter, and should matter. Fans are dramatic and irrational. Patience. Ward said it well on TSN. It needs to be phased out, like clutching and grabbing was, like high sticking was, etc. It takes time. All these suspensions are not bc dirty play is expanding. It’s bc the league has decided to punish more incidents that used to be acceptable. Fine…but just let it run its course.

  14. coolhandtuukk - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Boarding and checking from behind should be automatic game misconduct, maybe two. The Scott Stevens killshots, automatic game or two, don’t care if principle point of contact is the head, if it’s close you’re gone, it’s a totally unnecessary play. Ray Bourque was a pretty good defensemen, try and find a clip of him knocking someone out, ill wait. Teams should absolutely lose that roster spot for the games in which their player is suspended, and maybe they should have to have a guy serve 10 mins in the box immediately following the penalized play. And the teams and players should absolutely pay a fine into a fund for retired players or concussion research. And if a guy continues to make dangerous hits after he’s been suspended a few times? Seeya bud, have a nice career in the real world, or go play 5 incident free years in Russia and then apply for reinstatement.
    I don’t buy that taking fighting out of the game is going to prevent many head injuries, but I think removing the 5 minute players who’s only purpose is to fight from the game will. Fighting is an integral part of hockey, and I don’t mind it when it’s two hockey players in the heat of the moment, but the John Scotts of the league need to go. Somehow the league needs to find a way to prevent teams from employing guys like that, they don’t add anything, they ruin careers, they keep legit hockey players out of the league by filling a roster spot, and it’s guys like that who make casual hockey fans and non hockey fans believe the NHL, and therefore hockey is a joke.
    Who knows how many incredibly talented kids will never be able to lace up a pair of skates cause their parents watched some no talent bum knock someone out in an NHL game. Sickening. Greatest game on earth and it’s being destroyed by clowns.

    • amityvillefun - Dec 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      Good point on Bourque. Very clean player who played the game how it should be played.

  15. sporkov - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    The roster spot lost will be from the 23 not the game 20.

  16. olescool - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    So I am just wondering if Milbury will demand that Thorton and Julien be kicked out of the league tonight prior to the Bruins / Sabres game. I stand in amazement to hear a guy who not only played dirty when he was a player but continues to be an off ice bully. He won’t say a word though because it is his beloved Bruins.

    • amityvillefun - Dec 19, 2013 at 3:36 PM

      Mike Milbury is wondering if you are missing a shoe. :)

    • hockeyflow33 - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:34 PM

      Millbury is a really nice guy so I’m not sure why you think he’s an off-ice bully. I reffed games he coached in and he was one of the most respectful guys behind the bench.

  17. olescool - Dec 19, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    HA… Nope, got both of mine. I wear a size 13 and I am sure he was looking for something smaller, maybe in the range of age 12… I mean size 12. I just can’t stand his hypocritical rants. They change every week. Heck, he tried to put enforcers into the all star game when he was a coach. He rants in October about Scott and then in November says they should go after star players. He led his teams in penalty minutes several times yet criticizes players for doing their role. Just like NFL, these “safety measures” are ruining the game. The players need to be held accountable not just for the hits but also for putting themselves in vulnerable positions. Offense sells tix and stars sell jerseys. I guess all things change and I just need to get used to this new Disney on Ice hockey.

  18. muckleflugga - Dec 19, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    the message is not being heard, because the ears are plugged with money…windfall profits and blood lust, driving conditions of play


    further to the steve moore foundation commentary, and your position on the state of a game passive in its treatment of dangerous play…

    in most discussion related to hockey, i play the devil’s advocate; point counterpoint in effort to rationalize obstacles wrongfully injured players face in their effort in seeking compensatory and punitive damages

    when personal belief plays, i advocate for the players, always; my beliefs are congruent with your own when we discuss inability of the league to measure, educate, mentor, and control risk and hazard

    when arguing either position, i believe self-determination contributes in no small measure to players knowing when play exceeds acceptable risk…

    this can involve a player consciously exposing himself to hazard to gain positional advantage while begging relief from an incoming opponent, who’s responsibility to protect his opponent is effectively enhanced and bought by illegitimate means…a player playing with back to opponent, head down and near dasher-board while controlling the puck, for instance…

    or, it can involve a player fully cognizant of harm caused by concussive forces, delivering directed and forceful contact to an opponent’s head, vulnerable or not…stepping-through a player with shoulder or elbow or stick with head contact likely probable, in this instance…

    i do not believe in accidental contact…

    a causal chain leads to all contact…players with the experience and inventory of the pattern of play in hockey who’ve reached the nhl level have no excuses…they know

    while the league is duty bound to educate, mentor, and control risk and hazard in its product, player self-determination will mitigate extent of league responsibility when damages are pursued through the courts

    the league’s achilles is its inability to control through legislation and penalty, owners, managers and coaches who fail to educate, mentor and administer player behaviour as it relates to risk and hazard; not surprising since the nhl’s legislative body is a board of governors made up of team owners operating in concert with the nhlpa:

    owners see the huge windfall blood-lust hockey generates, and the union sees its existence tied to player revenue benefitting from the blood money…why regulate when profit prevails over the long-term health of a highly disposable commodity, the players themselves

    mitigation is as old as law…

    mitigation in labour law is less old, coming to prominence in the eighties and nineties, but maturing as common law grows in proportion to legal action under discussion

    • patthehockeyfan - Dec 20, 2013 at 7:44 AM

      Well said, muckle. Very well said. (written)

      Your comment: “why regulate when profit prevails over the long-term health of a highly disposable commodity, the players themselves” is the one that strikes home. And, it makes me sad. (okay, yes, I’m a woman)

      In emailing with a friend about this the other day, he wrote: “You know as well as I do that most hockey fans love to see violence on the ice. It is like boxing fans. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the player’s safety.”

      So, we have owners, the league and fans in favor of continuing the violence. The ones who come out on the short end are the players. Some would argue the phrase ‘short end,’ because the players are paid, some handsomely, to risk their health. If, as you write, players are aware of these risks, and they do it any way, I don’t see a solution to the problem. As I wrote to you a few days earlier (Steve Moore story), I love the sport. It’s the game that’s troubling.

      Thanks for your (again) detailed and measured response. I wish you Happy Holidays! :)

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