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Trending Topics: NHL playoff chaos is no one’s fault, because it’s everyone’s fault

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

The problem, inherently, isn't with guys like Raffi Torres.

Don't get me wrong, Raffi Torres is definitely a problem. It's gotten to the point with him -- and players exactly like him, who seemingly exist only to injure other players -- that we must assume any hit they deliver that does not result in a concussion is one for which they'd like a mulligan. Guys like him, after amassing this long a rap sheet, should probably not be allowed to play in the National Hockey League any longer.

But they are not the root cause of the current situation in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If they were, it would be guys like him, and like him exclusively, that were picking up suspensions and fines left and right. Unfortunately, for those looking for an easy scapegoat, guys like Andrew Shaw and Carl Hagelin and even poor, much-criticized Shea Weber are not like Raffi Torres. The things they did were insidious, but they are not idiotic.

And you would have to be an idiot to play like Raffi Torres does in 2012.

And so then the blame must reasonably fall on the League's inconsistency in laying down the law on those villainous enough to bring injury upon their fellow player, right?

Well, not entirely.

Henrik Zetterberg has noted that the lack of a suspension for Weber "set the bar" for what would be a two-week chastising of Brendan Shanahan and the job he's done, but apparently Zetterberg hasn't been paying attention to the League's supplementary discipline for the last, oh I don't know, forever.

Three games for Hagelin and just one for James Neal despite the latter doling out twice the illegal hits just seconds apart doesn't seem fair, but it seems consistent — there's that word again! — with the League favoring premier players. It's easy and extremely convenient for the NHL to make examples of guys who play 15 minutes a night. But that, also, isn't the problem.

It's also not an issue of semantics. In the immediate wake of the Torres hit on Marian Hossa, there was a lot of discussion on Twitter about whether it was just a good hockey hit. (Of course, those arguing for its legality were flatly wrong.)

Would it have been any better if the toe of one of Torres' skates was still making the lightest contact with the ice?

What if Torres had hit Hossa two inches lower and to the right, contacting his shoulder first and not his head? What if the puck was there 0.3 seconds longer?

Some noted that the problem was clear: If we were arguing semantics over a play that led to a guy being stretchered off the ice and taken to a hospital, we were watching a League gone goofy, run by madmen. And while that may be a legitimate concern, there should be little doubt: Because the vast, vast majority immediately saw the hit and viewed it as being predatory (Torres, obviously, should receive the benefit of the doubt zero percent of the time), the existence of this type of argument is also not inherently to blame for these pitiable playoffs.

Other things that are not the reason for the culture in the NHL today include but are by no means limited to: the speed of the game, the lack of respect among players, the media for ramping up the hate in every series with middle school-level prodding and the tendency toward fanboyism on both sides, the acrimony that builds up between teams in the course of a seven-game series, the tenor of competition in the playoffs, or ever-growing knowledge of what concussions do to the human brain, teams like Washington issuing statements saying how they don't agree with a suspension, etc.

The root cause of the problem everyone is now so worried about is that no one at any level of the game has a real vested interest in taking steps to change it.

Or, at least, not enough of one that they're actually going to do anything about it.

If anyone wants anything to change, for suspensions to serve as a legitimate deterrent to misbehavior, they must be handed out with near-Hammurabi's Code levels of speed, decision and harshness.

You know what worked for a little while? The massive suspensions Shanahan was handing out in the preseason for things that would barely get second looks today. James Wisniewski's elbow got him eight games — about one-tenth of the season — in September and would likely have earned him one now, in a best-case scenario. But the reason suspensions of that size went away in a hurry is that they scared the hell out of everyone.

That was some serious boat-rocking from Shanahan, who one suspects has been neutered by a tidal wave of complaints from both the Players' Association and Board of Governors in the wake of those decisions.

No one has a reason to support long suspensions. Not then and certainly not now. Teams don't want to lose players — key or otherwise — from their NHL rosters for any considerable length of time during the regular season because it might affect their standing at the end of the season. The reason they don't want to lose players now is, I think, fairly obvious. That runs all the way up the ladder to the Board of Governors, because at the end of the day, that's who ends up making money from gate receipts, broadcast deals, jersey sales and concessions.

Likewise, the NHLPA can't in good conscience support the kind of big suspensions everyone clamors for because that's money coming out of its members' pockets. If it were to do so, we'd have another player mutiny against their union reps, because these guys gotta eat, and taking a League-mandated vacation without pay for 10 percent of the season is untenable.

Let's be clear here: No one benefits from guys getting taken out of a playoff game on a stretcher live on national television; and all would agree it's a ghastly sight. But in much the same way these suspensions aren't a deterrent from the kind of play that causes guys to get wheeled off the ice, they also seem not to be so concerning that anyone from the League to individual players wants to do anything about them (at least not until it hurts their team).

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The BOG and PA have the political influence and financial motivation to limit the severity of supplementary discipline, so they use it. Can't fault them for it.

People have often cited Matt Cooke as the ultimate sign of the supplementary discipline system having a strong effect, but consider that it took sit-downs with his teammates, coach, general manager and owner before he realized that what he was doing was wrong — not necessarily for his opponents, but for his bank account. It's obviously not the noblest reason to stop hospitalizing people, but these days, any reason is a good one, and you gotta take what you can get.

That's pressure to change from the top down, and if you want to see it League-wide, you have to institute it League-wide. Everyone signing off on big suspensions would be the easiest way to do that. If everyone wants to get serious about protecting players, then do it.

The only solution, then, is for everyone to just suck it up. If you don't want to see huge suspensions, but the only deterrent to this type of dangerous play is to levy them until everyone stops trying to kill each other, then you have to think hard about what's good for everyone in the long run, and what your priorities are.

Long suspensions have a far greater probability of making guys smarten up than short ones, and if guys smarten up, fewer injurious plays take place. You would think it's in the best interest of players, teams, the unions, and the league to protect everyone. In the end, allowing the Department of Player Safety to use lengthy sitdowns as preventative measures will be well worth the temporary headaches for all involved.

Throwing the book at Raffi Torres is, at this point, going to be easy. Throwing the book at everyone is the only way anything is going to change.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on common courtesy: "People who walk in the elevator before someone else tries to get off, smarten up."

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.

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