MINNEAPOLIS - The NHL is not the only party that has issues with the Flyers' five suspensions this season.
Paul Kelly, the new executive director of the NHL Players' Association, has taken the unprecedented step of saying the union is unhappy with the team as well. Kelly says the NHL should take a tougher stance on repeat offenders.
Meanwhile, one day after Flyers enforcer Riley Cote was suspended for three games, the Flyers called up Steve Downie - fresh off his 20-game suspension.
"It does concern me that a number of these incidents have involved the same franchise," Kelly told the Minneapolis Star Tribune over the weekend. "That concerns me. Whether that's coincidence, whether that's culture, whether that's coaching, I don't know. But that's a concern and it's something that I think both the league and the association need to pay attention to as to why that's happening."
Kelly is scheduled to meet with the Flyers players this month in Buffalo as part of his visits to all 30 teams. He said he intended to raise the issue of on-ice conduct with the players.
"I know that they're going to have some issues," Kelly said, adding that he was "critical" of the Randy Jones hit.
"People that think the players' association is always going to advocate less discipline, I think that they're kind of mistaken because we represent both the victim and the aggressor," he said.
"I think, frankly, we ought to have a voice in this process," Kelly said. "It ought to happen before the discipline is imposed, and I'm not so sure in every instance we're going to be the ones advocating less of a suspension."
Flyers president Peter Luukko said, "We look forward to meeting and sitting down with him on any issues he may have."
The NHL has warned the Flyers that they will face penalties if there are more suspensions.
"The gist of the message was that while we accept that the various incidents this season involving Flyers players were separate and isolated incidents, we cannot permit them to keep happening," said Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner. "At some point, clubs have to be held accountable for the actions of their players."
General manager Paul Holmgren took exception to Kelly's singling out the Flyers.
"It could happen to anybody," Holmgren said. "I don't agree with that. He basically said it could be a coincidence, and I believe it is a coincidence. It has nothing to do with a style of playing or coaching or anything like that. . . . Other than that, I don't want to comment on it."
Steve Downie, who has a history of over-aggressiveness since he played junior hockey, will join the club for tonight's road game against the Minnesota Wild.
"It's kind of funny; he's back after all that has happened," Derian Hatcher said. "He's kind of the poster boy" of the new Broad Street Bullies "for a little while, him and Jesse [Boulerice]."
"Steve has played very well for the Phantoms of late," Paul Holmgren said. "He was the best guy at this point to call up. . . . He's a smart young man. He's learned his lesson."
Downie said he had been told to be on his best behavior.
"I'm not going to be changing anything; I'll work hard," said the winger, who was suspended for a vicious preseason hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond. "Definitely, you want to play within the rules and not hurt the team with a suspension. You can't be taking liberties."
Coach John Stevens didn't seem to think the team was pushing the envelope by calling up Downie so soon after the Cote incident.
"Not really," Stevens said. "If there was ever a time for Steve to be disciplined, it's now. He's served his suspension. He's worked hard and deserves the opportunity."
Added Peter Luukko: "We're under the microscope. We know that."