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While NHL dithers, KHL takes stand against on-ice violence

By Allan Muir

Brendan Shanahan shouldn't have to be this busy.

Not even three weeks into the 2013-14 season and the NHL's chief disciplinarian already has doled out 53 games worth of suspensions and docked nearly $750,000 in pay from players who can't figure out how to stay within the lines. And those figures are likely to rise on Tuesday after he meets with Colorado's Cody McLeod, who was called on the carpet for boarding Detroit's Niklas Kronwall on Thursday night.

There's an argument to be made that the game's frantic pace is a problem partly of Shanahan's own making. The two-game suspensions he often hands out are hardly a deterrent to players who might be so inclined to take liberties, let alone adequate punishment for a senseless act of violence.

The players aren't responding to his sanctions, but he's been disinclined to test the limits of his authority.

Of course, he's not the only one who is struggling to curb thuggish behavior. Russia's KHL is suffering through its own epidemic of violence. Unlike the NHL though, they've decided they've had enough.

In response to what it called "a surge in the number of players sustaining injuries as a result of reckless and illegal contact", the KHL Disciplinary Committee held an emergency meeting on Friday, after which committee chief (and former Quebec Nordique) Valery Kamensky issued the following statement:

It is with deep regret that we note the significant increase this season in players sustaining serious injuries as a result of boarding, kneeing, attacks from behind and attacks to the head, with the latest example being Ak Bars defenseman Grigory Panin’s illegal hit on Medvescak’s Matt Murley, committed after play had been halted and while Murley was still on his knees.

This was pure hooliganism from Panin. For us on the Disciplinary Committee, this is an alarm bell we cannot ignore, and therefore we consider it vital to inform all concerned that from now on the Disciplinary Committee will be far more severe in implementing additional disciplinary measures to punish fouls which cause injury to other players. We fully understand that players and teams have a heavy workload and all are battling for a place in the play-offs, but this is no reason for unnecessarily dirty play on the ice and in no way excuses those who have committed senseless fouls and injured their fellow players.

As for Panin, the League has already imposed the maximum punishment for such behavior. However, the Regulations do provide for additional punishments in extraordinary cases which may require harsher measures than those already implemented. In my view, this incident is one which demands a far longer suspension than the 10-game maximum. We believe the Players’ Union should also take action in light of recent events, and should demand that its members show respect for their opponents and refrain from dirty play.

Bravo.

Bravo for calling out Panin as a hooligan. Bravo for recognizing that the wrist-slap suspensions of two and three and five games aren't working and that some incidents demand a more pronounced censure. Bravo for drawing a line and clearly stating that, from now on, things will be different.

And bravo for putting the onus for effecting real and meaningful change where it belongs: on the players themselves.

Kamensky, like Shanahan, can only do so much after the fact. It's up to the people whose health and livelihoods are at risk to take responsibility for their actions, and those of their teammates. To set a higher standard of hard but ethical play based on mutual respect.

The vast majority of players, both in the KHL and NHL, already subscribe to that code. And if suspensions aren't doing enough to get the outliers in line, maybe peer pressure backed by the union will do the trick.

It'll be interesting to see how the KHL's players' association responds to Kamensky's challenge. And more interesting to see if the NHL or the NHLPA have the courage to draw a line of their own.

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