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Three Games for McLaren. Enough?
The NHL needs to re-think its approach to penalties, suspensions and player safety.
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Dateline: April 28/02

Much of the debate that followed Kyle McLaren's WWF-style face job on Richard Zednik centred on one question: Was it premeditated, or the result of a split-second reaction to the play?

The distinction is crucial. The player who plans and carries out such a dangerous act deserves far greater punishment than the guy who does something stupid in the heat of the moment. Of course, only one man can definitively answer the question. When Kyle McLaren met NHL VP Colin Campbell on Saturday to discuss the Zednik episode, it's safe to assume he was asked to explain what he was thinking as he chopped down his Montreal opponent.

In rendering judgement - McLaren is suspended for the rest of the series against Montreal, a maximum of three games - Campbell called the offence "instantaneous, but inappropriate."

"Based on my years of experience with the game," Campbell continued, "I don't believe you can fairly conclude that this was a premeditated attempt to injure the Montreal player." He also noted that McLaren has no previous history of trying to take people's heads off.

Having watched the replay enough times, I am not quite so prepared to give Kyle McLaren the benefit of the doubt. If he had time to stick his arm out and seemingly take aim while approaching Zednik, it seems logical to assume he had time to think about it. But Colin Campbell has played in the NHL and spent his life in professional hockey, so I defer to him on the issue of intent.

Still, the suspension seems light. If the incident had taken place during the regular season McLaren might have an extra three to five games to think about what a muttonhead he was last Thursday. But the NHL often gives short suspensions at playoff time, perhaps acting on the idea that six regular season games are worth about three playoff games because playoff games are so much more important.

Fair enough. The prospect of sitting out three games with your team's season on the line is likely a powerful deterrent for most players. But the McLaren incident is one more reminder that the NHL needs to step back and fully re-evaluate how it enforces the rules and protects its players. In a league where blows to the head, checks from behind and chop blocks to the knees have become fairly common, it's obvious that the current approach to crime and punishment simply does not work.

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