Why all the suspensions? Just don't tell me it's 'code'

Updated: April 23, 2007, 11:44 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

At a time when the National Hockey League should be celebrating its finest, it instead finds itself putting out a seemingly never-ending series of brush fires started by maniac backup goaltenders, juicers and goons.

Let's start with the performance put on by the Calgary Flames this weekend.

Getty ImagesAn already physical Flames-Wings series turned ugly toward the end of Saturday's Game 5.

Considered among the elite franchises in the NHL, one wonders how long coach Jim Playfair can hang on after his team self-immolated against the Detroit Red Wings.

After clawing back from a 2-0 deficit to even the series, the Flames continued their season-long missteps on the road by losing 5-1 to the Wings on Saturday. What's worse, they brought shame on themselves and the league on a nationally televised broadcast when netminder (and we use that term loosely) Jamie McLennan relieved an overwhelmed Miikka Kiprusoff and played 18 seconds before gut-chopping Johan Franzen with a play that was more Friday The 13th than NHL.

The NHL announced Sunday that McLennan will be suspended for five games. Gee, that means the Flames will have to find some other stiff to sit at the end of the Flames' bench for five games. What a blow to the organization.

The McLennan attack came after one of the Flames' top players, Daymond Langkow, courted suspension at the team's hour of need by sucker-punching Brett Lebda after Lebda hit him with a low, but clean, hit. (Lebda did not play in Sunday's Game 6 because of a concussion he suffered from the incident.)

Then, there was normally sane and reasoned Calgary captain Jarome Iginla running amok as time wound down, looking to punch any Red Wing silly enough to venture into his orbit.

If McLennan wasn't sent in to deliberately stir things up, why did Playfair wait until the 16:43 mark of the third to pull his best player in Kiprusoff? Or was it just bad coaching to leave your all-world netminder in an explosive environment with the game out of reach? And what was Iginla doing on the ice killing penalties late in a game already out of control with a sixth and possibly deciding game on the schedule for the next night in Calgary?

Who's minding the store?

There was some debate among Canadian analysts that perhaps Playfair, who was fined $25,000 by the league on top of a team fine of $100,000, should have been removed by GM and former coach Darryl Sutter after the Flames were outclassed in Games 1 and 2.

There shouldn't be much debate now given how the Flames disintegrated into ash in the blink of an eye as Detroit's 2-1 double-overtime win Sunday eliminated Calgary from the postseason in six games.

Don't bring up the "code"

The next time we hear the term "code" when it comes to NHL tough guys, remind us to grab the nearest bag. Because it's all crap.

If there was anything resembling a "code" among the game's tough guys, there would never have been a situation like the one that saw career ruffian Brad May, he of four goals in 68 career playoff games, punch the Minnesota Wild's best defenseman, Kim Johnsson, in the face, ending his playoff season and accelerating the end of the Wild's postseason.

Brad May
May

The league suspended May for three games. Boo hoo. Wonder when Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle will notice May is missing. This isn't so much about the suspension; although, let's be honest, the NHL could have, and should have, suspended May for 10 games as a way of suggesting such behavior will not be tolerated.

Once again, the issue is the complete lack of respect shown for players by players. May called Johnsson afterward to apologize. This is the same guy who suggested then-Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore was going to get his when May was a Vancouver Canuck. Moore did, at the hands of Todd Bertuzzi.

You really want to make the game more appealing for more fans on both sides of the North American border? Stop signing players like May to a contract. Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough suggested as much after the Wild were dumped in five games.

"I wonder right now if it isn't time for the general managers to start taking more responsibility for how their players play," Risebrough told reporters in Minnesota. "Because, ultimately, it's us that hire the coaches, it's us that get the players. And then, if there's a behavior that's on the ice that's not positive for the game, why wouldn't we go to the source? Why wouldn't we hold the general managers accountable for how their teams play? Ultimately, maybe we would have fewer of these things."

Wonder if Risebrough also meant himself, given his own resident monster, Derek Boogaard, precipitated a near-brawl by venturing into the Ducks' zone during a warmup prior to Game 5.

No conspiracy here

All of the "conspiracy" talk emanating from the news Islanders defenseman Sean Hill tested positive for a banned substance has generally come from Canada -- the lifelong home of most hockey conspiracy theories great and small.

Sean Hill
Hill

It is a convenient theory for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to believe Hill tested positive and then was allowed to play and disrupt their playoff plans. It had nothing to do with the Habs' inability to win down the stretch or the fact the Leafs left 11 overtime or shootout loss points on the table and finished one point out of the playoffs.

Hill tested positive late in the regular season and filed an appeal, as is his right under the NHL's drug policy. The appeal to the "impartial arbitrator" that oversees the testing was heard on an expedited basis, according to an NHL source. When that appeal was overturned, Hill was suspended for 20 games. The suspension kicked in for Game 5 of the Sabres-Islanders series, New York's final game of the season.

Hill is the first player in more than 2,800 tests to test positive for a banned substance.

The real question now is whether Hill's career is over. He's about to become an unrestricted free agent and no team is likely to take a cap hit for a player that'll miss the first quarter of next season. Too bad. Hill has played tough, hard-nosed hockey through a career that has included 841 regular-season games.

Voice of reason?!

Mike Keenan is writing a column for the Sun newspaper chain in Canada. He weighed in Sunday, saying there was no place for drugs or violence in the game, citing the poor decisions made by the Islanders' Chris Simon, whose whack on the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg cost the Islanders his services, and Hill's suspension. Always nice to hear from the voice of reason. Next, a column on the decision-making process behind trading franchise goaltenders for broken-down forwards and other assorted spare parts.

GM rumor mill

No surprise Doug MacLean was shown the door in Columbus after the Blue Jackets failed to get anywhere near a playoff berth for the sixth straight season. He joined Phoenix GM Mike Barnett in the unemployment line and sets up a couple of interesting job searches.

In Phoenix, new ownership will be looking for someone who can manipulate an impressive collection of prospects and draft picks into a playoff team. That person will have to work closely with coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky, but can't afford to have been too tight with Gretzky (the new ownership group would like a little more separation between friends and co-workers at Glendale Arena). That said, Gretzky will be expected to be a big part of the decision-making, in terms of the new GM and the direction personnel management will take.

In Columbus, ownership, traditionally hands-off, will be looking for someone who can work closely with coach Ken Hitchcock, who will be counted on to take the moribund franchise in the right direction after he was brought in midway through the season.

MacLean has made a few nice acquisitions (his dumping of troublesome netminder Marc Denis on Tampa for Fredrik Modin comes to mind), but he also made significantly more moves that set the franchise back (the deal for 18-goal man Sergei Fedorov is a perfect example).

Ownership should be talking to former Calgary GM Craig Button, now a senior scout with Toronto. Button worked with Hitchcock in Dallas and was part of a Cup winner there. Expect Phoenix to have some conversation with Button, as well.

Rick Dudley, considered a top-notch evaluator of talent, will get a look in both locales; although, if the Chicago Blackhawks have any intention of crawling out of their self-designed pit, they'd do well to hang onto Dudley, who is assistant general manager.

Vancouver assistant GM Steve Tambellini is seen as one of the best young hockey minds in the business and is expected to be in the GM seat in one city or another by the end of the summer. It could be sooner if it's one of these cities. He knows both Hitchcock and Gretzky through his involvement with Canada's Olympic effort the past two Games.

Pat Quinn is an interesting figure given his breadth of hockey knowledge. He has strong connections to both Gretzky and Hitchcock through the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey programs.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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