<
>

Are recent NHL suspensions enough to deter bad on-ice behavior?

Editor's note: In our "Friday Faceoff," ESPN.com NHL writer Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Toronto Star columnist and frequent ESPN.com contributor Damien Cox (based in Toronto) duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!

This week's topic: The Vancouver Canucks' Mattias Ohlund slashed Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild, and Koivu suffered a cracked bone in his left leg. For his actions, Ohlund received a four-game suspension. Was the suspension enough?

Scott: Another week in the NHL, another moment of mayhem.

Damien: With all due respect, sir, have you already eaten too much turkey and, thus, are feeling snoozy? That wasn't mayhem, not by any stretch. But it was a slash, and it did do damage, so the suspension clearly was warranted. Funny thing is, you really don't see those kinds of two-handers that much in the NHL anymore. In fact, the last time I saw one, I believe you were beheading someone during an otherwise-friendly game of shinny.

Scott: That was my impression of backchecking. Yes, it's nice that we don't see the old baseball swing too often anymore, not like the glory days everyone talks about from the '70s. But I digress. I guess I have trouble understanding what kind of message is sent when one player deliberately injures another, with his stick, and gets what amounts to a week's holiday without pay.

Damien: I'm sure what you would hear out of Vancouver is that Koivu got what he deserved after elbowing Ohlund. Of course, those people still think Steve Moore deserved what he got, too. In this case, Ohlund is hardly a repeat offender; in fact, I'm certain the Canucks would like him to be far more aggressive than he generally is. Given that a point can mean a playoff spot, losing a top defender for four games could be seen as significant. That said, Koivu is likely to be out longer. I find figuring out what is fair and isn't fair very difficult. Are you suggesting 10 or 15 games would be a more logical penalty in this case?

Scott: I agree that Koivu didn't help his cause by tossing the elbow, but what happened to just sucking it up? I think you could have started with 10 games and gone from there. That's assuming the NHL levies these suspensions in an effort to punish the offending parties and send a message to others. To me, the message of four games says, "It's really OK if you do this kind of thing as long as your name isn't Chris Simon."

Damien: First of all, I didn't say Koivu deserved it. I'm saying others might, particularly the idiots who believe you can't have hockey without fighting, which, in fact, brings us to an intriguing issue. Those who lead the morally bankrupt players' union would have you believe that every single player in the NHL wants the instigator penalty abolished so players can "police" themselves. Under those rules, do you believe Ohlund would have behaved differently? More generally, do you subscribe to the self-policing concept as being superior to league suspensions?

Scott: Morally bankrupt? I like it. As for players policing themselves, I don't think the instigator penalty has anything to do with players settling scores themselves (who needs the referees, after all?). There always will be frontier justice in the game. Taking out the instigator penalty would just provide more job security for players who otherwise have no place in the league, like your local high-thinker Wade Belak, who recently suggested that someone would "kill" Sean Avery. Instigator or no instigator, Ohlund still whacked Koivu because he couldn't control himself.

Damien: I actually agree with you on this one. Moreover, having watched hockey in the 1970s, when you were glued to your set watching "Partridge Family" reruns, I recall lots of Paul Bunyan swings and cheap shots and nasty play, and there was no instigator penalty in place; thus, theoretically, players should have been better able to "police" the game. The basic, unfortunate fact is the majority of players today -- and the majority of fans -- have little sense or understanding of history. That's why you constantly hear stupidity like, "Players don't respect each other like they used to." Balderdash. Players respect each other today far more than they did in the days when stick-swinging fights were common and brawls -- real brawls -- were a nightly occurrence. Maurice "Rocket" Richard once said that to understand the era in which he played is to understand how violent it was. But these players have no understanding of history and, even worse, are just lemmings when it comes to most issues. The lockout proved that. End of rant.

Scott: That was a good one. And not to turn this into an agree-fest, but I think the whole notion of "respect" is just something players say to reporters to get them to leave them alone. We're lucky there aren't more incidents like the Ohlund chop or the Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice hits. And I know NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell has a tough job, but what baffles me is the inconsistencies. I think part of the problem is separating the act from the result, and I'm not sure you can. Koivu has a broken bone in his leg. And as much as the Canucks will miss Ohlund (actually, they appear not to be missing him at all, given their winning ways), I don't see how four games adds up. Maybe there should be a sliding scale based on the act: two-hand baseball swing gets 10 games minimum, and then you can add depending on circumstances.

Damien: Like the schedule, there's no perfect system. I'd be interested, however, in seeing what the players would be like if they had the opportunity to participate with Campbell on suspension decisions. Let's say a panel of five players, none from the conference of the offending player, who would have a vote or a say of some kind. It always amazes me that the NHLPA -- did I really say morally bankrupt? -- always goes to bat for the player facing a suspension but never for the victim.

Scott: I agree (there we go again). Like the competition committee does in looking at rules and changes to the game, maybe issues of discipline should go to a panel that includes a player or two and maybe a general manager -- different perspectives who make suggestions that Campbell could ultimately accept or reject.

Damien: So, back to suspension. Here are my two ideas. First, no suspension should ever be less than 10 games. If somebody's been a bad boy, that's the only way you're really going to get his attention and spread the gospel of deterrence. Second, coaches serve half the suspension time or maybe sit out the same number of games. Put the responsibility on the coaches to control their players. In general, however, I think the league has stepped up to the plate in recent instances with long suspensions for Simon and Boulerice. Yet, the players still whine there's not enough respect, too many cheap-shot artists and trash-talking punks. Does that mean the league isn't really being effective at all?

Scott: I suggested the Flyers should have been on the hook after their second act of brutality in the first month of the season, and I love the idea of the entire franchise paying the price at some point. And I'd be happy with starting at 10 games. I think the notion of suspending someone for a game or two outside of the in-game penalties levied defeats the purpose, if indeed the purpose is to deter aberrant behavior. But I think the NHL is reluctant to examine this element of the game with the foresight they have in regard to the competition committee and the changes to the game coming out of the lockout. Maybe some day, but I won't hold my breath.

Damien: OK, but you'd be fine with Ohlund serving 10 for hacking Koivu? In that case, if it's zero or 10, I'd pick zero.

Scott: I'd go with 10 in a heartbeat, you old softie. Whew. I thought we were going to agree on everything today. Until next time?

Damien: Yes, sir. And keep your stick down for a change, will ya?

Scott: And give up my best move? Never.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Brodeur: Beyond The Crease" and "'67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire."