Every psychology 101 Student knows the experiment: A rat that receives a shock for standing near a certain food cup eventually learns not to go there. NHL players, it seems, aren't as quick to catch on. Even though the league reacted to Todd Bertuzzi's ugly March 8 assault on Steve Moore of the Avalanche with appropriate harshness—the Canucks forward was suspended for the rest of the season—there has since been a spike in gratuitous violence. The league has suspended 10 players and collected nearly $500,000 in fines since Bertuzzi's March 11 punishment. One of the worst incidents came on March 20, when Toronto enforcer Wade Belak delivered a two-handed slash to the head of Colorado defenseman Ossi Vaananen. After seeing another teammate felled by a cheap shot, Teemu Selanne asked, "Does someone have to the before things change?"
Belak, who was given an eight-game ban, is an enforcer who has seven career goals and 811 penalty minutes. But the recent offenders have spanned the talent spectrum. Rangers captain Mark Messier received a two-game suspension for spearing Pittsburgh's Martin Strbak in the groin on March 21. And Flames coach Darryl Sutter was suspended for two games for "player selection" after he sent goon Krzysztof Oliwa onto the ice in the closing seconds of a brawl-filled match with the Predators.
Why can't hockey people control themselves? Selanne suggested last week that he thinks some of the behavior may be attributed to players' abuse of ephedrine, an ingredient in cold tablets. The conventional wisdom, though, continues to be that violence is part of the game's fabric. "Players don't really think [on the ice]," says New Jersey defenseman Scott Niedermayer. "You do things that you think will help your team win. You don't think of the consequences."
But the consequences are often serious. Moore, who suffered two fractured vertebrae, left a Denver-area hospital under his own power last week and hopes to resume his career. If he does, he'll find the NHL pretty much the way he left it.