Daily Debate: NHL players still don't get it

Scott Burnside and Craig Custance today drop the gloves on inadequate suspensions and the rumors as the trade deadline approaches. Go!

BURNSIDE: Good day, Mr. Custance. Always a pleasure to hang out with you as we did in Philadelphia. Not a pleasure, however, to see that NHL players still don’t get it, do they? At least guys like Rene Bourque and Dan Carcillo, who were both suspended by the NHL on Wednesday. Both Carcillo, of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Bourque, of the Calgary Flames, are multiple meatheads in that they have both been suspended -- Bourque earlier this season -- and are considered multiple offenders. But what troubles me is that if, as league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan told us early in this season, one of his main mandates as prescribed by the league’s GMs was to weed out the guys who don’t learn their lesson, why are we still seeing single-digit suspensions? For me this is where the league says one thing but does another. Carcillo is a marginal player at best, and his hit on Tom Gilbert was dangerous, so why not give him 10 games? Why not 20? Bourque's hit was even more egregious in my mind. He went out of his way to elbow an unsuspecting Nicklas Backstrom in the head in the neutral zone and now Backstrom is out with what might be a concussion. It’s not enough Sidney Crosby remains out with a concussion? Or Alexander Steen or Chris Pronger or ... shall I continue? Bourque has talent. But earlier this year, he rammed Brent Seabrook from behind and earned a two-game suspension. Learned his lesson? Guess not. What are the Capitals’ chances of making the playoffs, let alone going on a long playoff run, without Backstrom, one of the top centers in the game? How is the league served by a five-game suspension? It’s not. Repeating within a few weeks of an earlier suspension should open the door to 10, 15, 20 games. Want to clean up the game? Then clean it up, don’t sweep the dirt into a pile and leave it for others to step in.

CUSTANCE: Wow, not much to add there, Scott. You came out firing today. You know who I feel bad for in all of this? James Wisniewski. He gets hammered to start the season, a suspension that cost him half a million dollars ("The financial cost was absurd," he told me right before returning to the lineup) and that suspension derailed the Blue Jackets' season. At the time, I was OK with it because it looked like this was where justice was headed in the NHL, especially since Wisniewski had a history. But you're right, the message hasn't been consistent. I was stunned when I heard that Bourque's hearing wasn't in person. I assumed that would be a five-game minimum. That's not a hockey play, and now one of the best young talents in the league is sidelined -- a sentence written far too often the past couple of years. Hey, on the bright side, they're naming All-Star Game starters today. What? That doesn't interest you? One thing that really interested me from last night were comments from Anaheim, where Bob Murray is clearly agitated after losing again and told the great Helene Elliott that only Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are safe. Can you imagine the stampede of GMs scrambling to call about Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry?

BURNSIDE: Yes, what started with such promise as far as the league’s efforts to curtail needless violence has once again fallen into a quagmire of inconsistency. At least there is now video to accompany the decisions, although I had no idea George Orwell was still available to write the text. But your point on the Ducks is a good one and raises some interesting possibilities as we head toward the trade deadline at the end of February. I think there will be a few GMs like Bob Murray who have a lot of money tied up in long-term deals and figure it might be worth it to cut bait in advance of a new collective bargaining agreement that some believe might include some sort of salary amnesty in terms of buying out contracts. For instance, if you think you might buy out Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf anyway, why not see what the market might produce in terms of top assets and draft picks? And you’re right, if you’re Detroit or another top team that’s going to have some cap space, those kinds of players would certainly draw a lot of attention and should make for a lot of action over the next eight weeks. Now, there’s always a team that tries to get ahead of the curve before the trade frenzy really sets in. Any guesses who might move first?

CUSTANCE: To me, it would have to be a team with a little more desperation. You know guys like Paul Holmgren and Ken Holland are going to be aggressive at the trade deadline, but I don't get the sense they're in a hurry. But if you're Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning and you still think you can make the playoffs this season, you don't want to wait until February to find out. It was around this time last year when he added Dwayne Roloson, and the Lightning could certainly use another boost in goal or on defense. And what about the Predators? We've been so wrapped up in what they're going to do with their two franchise defensemen, but I wouldn't be surprised if GM David Poile found a way to add some offense in an attempt to further try to convince both guys to stick around. Another team at a crucial point in their season is the Los Angeles Kings. Their big move was a coaching change, so I suspect GM Dean Lombardi will let that roster settle a bit before making any additions. We chatted about the Kings' strong start under Darryl Sutter yesterday. "If you're going to do something this drastic, you think long and hard about it. I think making trades, draft choices, these type of things are difficult but the decision on when to change your coach is the most difficult," he said. "It's a grueling process mentally." The Kings are emerging from the grueling process quite well and Jonathan Quick called the entire thing a wake-up call for the players. Which team do you see making a roster move sooner rather than later?

BURNSIDE: Well, I was just plain wrong -- so far -- on the impact I expected Darryl Sutter to have. And good for Dean Lombardi for getting it right with his gut call. And having spoken to Lombardi shortly before the firing, I know he was reluctant to make any moves before he knew what kind of team he had; no sense spending assets to bring in offensive help if your core isn’t deserving of the expenditure. Now that they’re back in contention (they were in eighth as of Thursday morning but just a point back of San Jose, which sits atop the Pacific Division) I wouldn’t be surprised if Lombardi looks for some help up front. What about Ales Hemsky, who isn’t my cup of tea but for a rental might be attractive to a team like the Kings or Wings? Lots of talk earlier about Alexander Semin, who will be a UFA this summer, and his value has actually gone up with the Caps’ strong play of late. Would George McPhee move Semin if he thought he could add another piece somewhere else? Much will depend on Backstrom’s ability to get back in the lineup as to what the Caps’ plans entail. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Canucks try to add another defensive piece. I remember GM Mike Gillis talking at the start of the final that his goal was to have as many NHL-ready defensemen as possible. In the end he still was a tiny bit short, but expect him to try to follow a similar mantra heading into this trade deadline. And I like your take on the Preds as David Poile enters one of the most challenging trade deadline periods of his tenure in Nashville.

CUSTANCE: There’s going to be a lot of general managers looking to add depth on defense, with Gillis’ Canucks from last season a shining example as to why you need a good seven or eight NHL defensemen at your disposal if you want to make a long NHL run. Looking back at the Capitals' problems last spring, their lack of depth on defense might have been the biggest issue, and I’m sure George McPhee won’t let that happen again. As for tonight, there’s a load of games with one that really jumps out at me -- the rematch of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals between the Flyers and Blackhawks. We can watch how the Flyers' goalie situation unfolds against the powerhouse Blackhawks, then tune into HBO and relive the experience of the Winter Classic in the final "24/7" episode. Good thing we didn’t have cameras following us around in Philly. Great time as always at the Winter Classic. And great chatting with you, Scotty.