Commentary

Welcome to the goon show

Updated: April 18, 2012, 9:52 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- That the NHL's safety and discipline machine is broken is patently clear.

Look at any headline or highlight from the opening week of the playoffs and what do you see?

Marian Hossa taken off the United Center ice on a stretcher after being filled in by serial predator Raffi Torres.

Shea Weber cracking Henrik Zetterberg's head off the end glass in Nashville.

Arron Asham crosschecking Brayden Schenn in the throat then punching the defenseless Flyers player in the head.

Want more? Oh there's plenty.

Nicklas Backstrom crosschecking Rich Peverley in the face at the end of a game in Washington.

Andrew Shaw decking Phoenix netminder Mike Smith behind the Coyotes' net in Phoenix.

Carl Hagelin elbowing Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson in the head.

James Neal leveling an unsuspecting Sean Couturier, then chasing down Claude Giroux later in the game and leaving the Flyers star wobbled.

Matt Carkner continuously pummeling a fallen Brian Boyle.

All of the plays above involved some form of recklessness -- plays that were meant to injure or had the capacity to injure another player on the game's most important stage, the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They are hits that have the effect to change the course of this playoff season.

Alfredsson, for instance, missed Game 3 against the Rangers, which the Senators lost, and he might not be back. Who knows when Hossa will be back, and the impact was felt, as his Blackhawks went on to lose 3-2 in overtime to Phoenix in Game 3.

The reaction from the league has been, to say the least, curious.

Weber fined $2,500.

Asham suspended for four games.

Backstrom suspended one game.

Hagelin banned for three games.

Shaw suspended for three games.

Neal suspended one game.

Carkner suspended one game.

If you're a lesser player or a rookie, the chance of getting a longer ban appears much greater than if you're an established player, such as Neal, even if you have a history of supplemental discipline.

None of which does much for the league's already tattered reputation when it comes to supplemental discipline.

It was suggested by a top league official the game has never been better and at the same time never been worse. The game has never been faster and more competitive and the broadcasts never have been more crisp, thanks to HD television, and yet for a wide swath of the American sporting public, what they see of the game is the carnage and what they hear is the discussion of that carnage.

For those highly coveted fans, that's the game. The game is much more, but the perception is what it is.

But that doesn't mean there's not an answer. In fact, at least part of the answer has already been discussed and debated. Sadly, it appears that answer has been forgotten or misplaced.

Go back a little more than a year, when Mario Lemieux suggested in a letter to the NHL that the league adopt a sliding scale on which teams would be held responsible for the actions of their players. Depending on the number of games its players were suspended, the team would also pay a significant fine. At the time, Lemieux noted that his team would have been fined $600,000. The league had already been looking at a similar kind of plan, and while it seemed to have widespread support, it is nowhere in sight.

Maybe it's time to start thinking outside the box, because if the actions of the past week or so have taught us anything, it's that the league has a significant problem on its hands. It is being buried by its players, media and fans who are tired of the mayhem and frustrated at the league's obvious inability to stem the tide.

The head of discipline, Brendan Shanahan, met with the media at recent GMs meetings in Florida and noted that he was in the business of changing behavior, not the punishment business. We liked that and tried to cut Shanahan some slack as he described the different layers of his job.

Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik noted Wednesday morning that when Shanahan met with the Penguins earlier this season, the consensus was that the league was putting a lot more effort into these decisions.

But it seems clear that behavior is not going to change without significant punishment.

Is there a better indication of what a harsh sentence can yield than Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke, who was suspended for the final 10 games of last year's regular season and the first round of the playoffs? He is a changed player and he spoke with great emotion this season about letting his teammates down in the playoffs, when his absence was keenly felt during last year's first-round exit.

Maybe Cooke's teammate Neal will feel the same sorrow if the Penguins are ousted Wednesday night, although we still don't get how banning Neal for the rest of the series wouldn't have sent a more poignant message about the cost of his selfishness.

Ask players and managers and they will quietly tell you the current standard for suspending players doesn't work.

"I don't know what to expect anymore," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said after Tuesday's game against Phoenix. "I don't think anyone does."

One Hall of Famer described it thus: The suspensions are a shot of Novocain because they wear off too soon.

The paltry suspensions or, worse, the egregious error not to suspend Weber, an act that can be seen as ground zero in this spring of chaos, have to be addressed. But the league also needs to look at the answers that are in existence.

The NHL appears to be more concerned about what people say than what they do. The Ottawa Senators were fined $10,000 after Zenon Konopka (fined the maximum $2,500 allowed under the collective bargaining agreement) cursed at a New York Rangers player who was doing a pregame interview. New York Rangers coach John Tortorella was fined $20,000 for angry comments directed at the Penguins and specific players before the playoffs began.

No doubt Chicago coach Joel Quenneville will face a hefty fine after he called the officiating in Tuesday's game "a disgrace." What Torres will receive as punishment on Friday will make for an interesting juxtaposition.

Why not start fining those teams when their players go off the rails on the ice? Want to make it sting? Throw in suspensions for coaches at some point, too, if teams and their players don't learn a lesson.

Surely, in the face of one of the most embarrassing weeks in playoff history, all things should be considered. Well, shouldn't they?