Year after year, this problem DOESN’T get solved. So, I have decided to give Gary Bettman and co. some ideas that might work, but probably not.
1) Fine your players through the nose – Suspensions are all fine and dandy, but when your 5th defenceman misses 5 games in the middle of January, who is this hurting? His wallet takes a small hit, and the team will be just fine without him. If you fine the shit out of these players.. the type of money that will prevent them from buying a BMW, they will start to get the picture. They won’t be playing forever, so if they lose a substantial amount of money in their career it will hurt them beyond their playing days.
2) Get rid of the stupid instigator rule – Back in the “good old days” players weren’t nearly as dirty because of A) respect and B) retaliation. If a player fears that he will get his face bashed in during a fight, he might take that split second to avoid wallpapering somebody in to the boards. These dirty players are protected by the rules, and all they have to do is drop to the ice when somebody comes after them and they are fine. I understand after the Todd Bertuzzi fiasco, players policing themselves is dangerous, but you can believe something like that will probably never happen again.
C) Have a graded suspension system (like Major League Baseball with steroids) – the first time a player delivers a head shot/dirty hit its 8 games. Second time it’s 24. Third time it’s the season (meaning 84 games, playoff games included, regardless of the point of the season). NO EXCEPTIONS. If the rules are laid out for players clear as day, and they know exactly what their punishment will be, they’ll be a little bit more weary of being an asshole on the ice. If you have already been suspended twice and you know you have 84 games sitting in front of you AND a full season of pay to miss, you best be damned you aren’t doing anything stupid.
These suggestions are harsh, and would probably never get passed the NHLPA. But if the NHLPA does care about its players, then it should care more about their safety than the dumbasses losing money and games. It is for the greater good of both the game and the players.
The NHL needs to grow some serious balls here. Take a page out of the NFL’s book. Zero tolerance, otherwise this problem will never, ever, go away.