Brendan Shanahan had another difficult day on the job Thursday, which became the norm during a trying first full week of the postseason. He's handed down seven suspensions totaling 16 games with more coming when he's finished throwing the book at Coyotes forward Raffi Torres.
Sheriff Shanny was considering the punishment for Torres before meeting him today. Torres left his feet and dropped Marian Hossa with a flying shoulder Tuesday. Hossa made a horizontal exit while Torres skated without a penalty for the late hit.
In another era, Torres wouldn't have a meeting with the NHL's top cop. He would have faced the kind of justice that faded with the implementation of the instigator penalty. A player with his talent would have thought twice about unloading a vicious lick on a star such as Hossa for fear of getting his face rearranged.
Barbaric? Yes. Effective? Definitely.
The instigator rule was designed to decrease fighting and remove the uncivilized nature of hockey. In that sense, it succeeded. Players who earned roster spots solely for their left hook have become extinct. But it also led to more players throwing more cheap shots.
"There's no fear and there's no respect amongst them," said Sabres analyst Rob Ray, the former enforcer. "All that doesn't have to happen, and it wouldn't happen, if they just allowed two guys to go at it, or four guys, and it's over with. Let them handle it."
There is no simple solution. For me, the conflict is allowing players to police the game by fighting while knowing the long-term effects from concussions, many of which come from fighting.
The NHL for years has been selling the passion that comes with the playoffs. Too often, players have committed crimes of passion that would get them locked up if carried out on the streets.
Predators defenseman Shea Weber avoided suspension but was fined $2,500 for throwing Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg's head into the turnbuckle. The fine equated to 0.0003 percent of Weber's $7.5 million salary. For someone making $100,000 a year, it amounts to $30, or roughly the cost of a large pizza and 30 chicken wings.
"It was a WW[E] move," Ray said. "Come on. He got fined $2,500 for hitting him with an elbow and smashing his head into the glass. You spend more tipping the trainers."
What remained was a squiggly line that failed to define how much aggression was too much. Players aren't getting the message. Shanahan has handed down more suspensions this year than were distributed in the playoffs last year.
But violence sells. Television ratings soared in the playoffs after a late-season rumble between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on NBC carried into the postseason and boiled over in Game Three. Other series have turned ugly.
Shanahan's list of punishments reads like a long day in criminal court: Arron Asham, Penguins, attempted decapitation, four games; Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks, goalie-slaughter, three games; Carl Hagelin, Rangers, assault with a deadly elbow, three games; Craig Adams, Penguins, hair-pulling, one game.
You get the idea. Do they?