Attempts to clean up play in NHL bearing fruit

List of suspensions shows league is serious about eliminating thuggery

Dave Clarkson of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the only player to receive multiple suspensions for violent conduct this season. Claus Andersen / AFP
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The good news about getting dangerous play out of the NHL? Hardly a week goes by without an offending player getting hit with a suspension.

The bad news? Hardly a week goes by without an offending player getting hit with a suspension.

It is difficult to tell whether the league’s attempts to curtail thuggish play are having much effect.

Last week, six more players were sent to the sidelines. That made it 26 suspensions since pre-season play began 15 weeks ago. Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins drew the biggest penalty yet – a whopping 15 games.

Thornton earned his suspension for picking a fight with the reluctant Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins, slamming Orpik to the ice, punching him a few times and ultimately sending him to the hospital with a concussion.

In the same game, Pittsburgh’s James Neal earned a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston’s Brad Marchand in the head, making it a particularly vicious night.

Most of the suspensions this season were not premeditated mayhem but hits that happened in the course of play.

Violent conduct warranting suspensions may remain commonplace, but there are benefits to the crackdown, including the fact that only one player – Toronto’s Dave Clarkson – is a repeat offender this year.

Also, meaningfully, the league is a safer place, at least temporarily, when the likes of Clarkson, Thornton and Neal are in street clothes.