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Bolts Beat: NHL players must police themselves

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Published:   |   Updated: December 22, 2013 at 01:15 AM

TAMPA — Let’s hope the players figure things out, and soon.

Because at the rate the NHL is handing out suspensions, it sure does not appear that the message is getting through.

Since the start of the season, there have been 22 suspensions handed out by the NHL Player Safety Department, adding up to 108 regular-season games, which is already more than were handed out in the 48-game shortened season last year. Nine of those suspensions came during the first 15 days of December. There were also seven suspensions handed out during preseason play.

On one hand, some of this comes as a result of the NHL cracking down on dangerous hits, specifically hits to the head, in order to curb the number of concussions plaguing the league.

The standard has certainly changed, and for the better, in order to send a message that players need to be more aware and be responsible for their actions.

But that message may not be stern enough.

Or the players simply don’t have the respect for each other on the ice to care.

And that’s where it really needs to start, from within.

The media can point it out all the time — and we do — and the league can hold hearings by telephone or in person and hand down suspensions all it wants. At the end of the day, it has to come down to the players.

There is a bit of irony involved here because of the notion that players can trade punches on the ice for 60 minutes and go out and laugh about it over an adult beverage after the game.

I recall Matthew Barnaby and Bill Guerin — good friends off the ice — trading punches off the opening face-off on at least on occasion.

So that shows there is respect among the players.

Why doesn’t it translate on the ice?

Does the win-at-all-costs mentality translate into injuring as many opposing players as you can and be the last man standing just to win?

Hockey is a tremendous game to watch, with the skill, finesse and speed these athletes display while skating with 2-inch blades of steel strapped to their feet.

And it is a physical sport. That’s always been part of the appeal, and nobody should want to see that eliminated from the game.

But when it starts to border on violence, that’s where the players need to understand where the line is and not cross it.

The players are bigger, stronger and faster than they have ever been, which means when hits occur, they inflict more damage.

Sort of like going from driving a Volkswagen Beetle to a Hummer — when an accident occurs, the larger vehicle is going to cause the bigger dent.

If that message doesn’t get across — soon — it’s going to take something truly traumatic to force a change in mentality.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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