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Jonathan Toews leads players speaking out over NHL violence

Detroit Red Wings right wing Johan Franzen (93), of Sweden, collides with Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) in the first period of Game 1 on Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. Franzen was called for roughing on the play. Weber would later punch Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass near the end of the game. Nashville won 3-2.

Mark Humphrey/Mark Humphrey/AP

If you think all of the players around the league are on board with what's gone on in the first week of the NHL playoffs, think again.

Because more and more, they're coming out and offering critical opinions over what's transpired in other series, from the after-the-whistle scrums to the lack of suspensions for controversial incidents.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was the latest to weigh in on Tuesday, as he criticized the NHL's lack of a suspension on Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber in the Chicago Tribune.

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Weber became a focal point of these playoffs early on when he slammed Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass at the end of Game 1 and received only a $2,500 fine.

"In a situation like that with Weber, more than anything you should make an example of it, regardless of whether he's a star player," Toews said. "They have been trying to make an example of things like that so they don't happen again and all of a sudden you let one slide like that.

"Everyone must feel like they're back to square one. So it is frustrating."

Toews missed more than 20 games just prior to the playoffs with a concussion so it's likely he's more sensitive than most to blows to the head.

A few other veteran players have joined that chorus, however, saying they want to see a lot of the extra-curricular nonsense taken out of games.

"I think the league had a pretty good opportunity in Game 1 to set the bar, and I guess they did," Zetterberg said to reporters in Detroit on Tuesday. "There's been a few incidents after that."

"I think if you look around, the whole playoffs have been like that, not just our games," Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen told the Toronto Sun. "I watched games this weekend, and it has been like that.

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"I don't know what it is, but it's disappointing. There are some guys running around who don't usually do that, who are not supposed to do that. I don't understand that."

Added David Perron, a rising star with the St. Louis Blues, on Twitter: "Love the hard (legal) hits and emotions, but how can anyone like the head shots and other stuff?"

These types of incidents are black and white for many, but from the league's perspective, they're at a difficult crossroads here.

On one hand, ratings are skyrocketing given all the bad blood between teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Flyers. On the other, the environment for a potentially devastating, Marc Savard or Steve Moore like injury due to an illegal hit is also being created night after night.

The fine line between acceptable violence and suspendable violence that Perron talks about is often difficult to find for this league, and you only have to look at how many suspensions they've whiffed on in the (recent) past to see that in action.

There are already two star players on Canadian teams sitting out with concussions in Daniel Sedin and Daniel Alfredsson, both of whom remain questionable for their next game and whose absence may well affect the outcome of their series.

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They are among 11 players currently listed as out with head injuries from the 16 playoff teams.

Yet we're hearing this chorus of "if you don't like it, go play tennis" arguments from the likes of Don Cherry, Chris Nilan and plenty of fans essentially defending the type of borderline play that's leading to these injuries.

The vast majority of the criticism the NHL is taking in these playoffs has nothing to do with whether or not fighting should be in hockey. It has to do with the cheap hits, dirty plays and blows to the head that seem to come shortly after the scrums and fisticuffs bring things to a boil.

The truth is many, many players don't want a no holds barred league – and it's often those who have suffered serious concussions, like Toews and Perron, who are speaking out.

They want to keep the hits and keep the physicality without having to risk brain injury as the result of the types of acts going on night after night the past week.

The fact that Brendan Shanahan has four disciplinary hearings on Tuesday alone – as many as three of which may only result in fines – should be evidence enough that all is not well on that front.

This is a league that still has a lot of work to do, even according to several of its own players.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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