BUFFALO - Paul Kelly wants to be involved in the process.

The new executive director of the NHL Players' Association wants to confer with Colin Campbell, the NHL's Lord of Discipline, before - not after - the league hands down suspensions.

It would not necessarily be to argue against the length of a suspension, but sometimes to argue for more severe punishment. Kelly says his job is to protect

all

players, especially those injured via head shots, high elbows, etc., not just the guys docked in pay.

What a refreshing change: a union guy who advocates tough love.

"We should be consulted before a decision is made public," Kelly said Thursday night after he met for 90 minutes with the Flyers to discuss union matters. "Colin Campbell should contact us and give us his initial thoughts, and then hear our impressions of the matter.

"And before he announces his decision publicly, he should contact us and say, 'This is what I've decided, and I'm going to do X.' He should give us an opportunity for input."

That's input - not necessarily redress.

"People think that input is always going to be to argue for leniency, and I don't think that is the case," Kelly said, adding that the union represents both kinds of players.

Kelly said the union would "objectively evaluate" the incidents. "One of our big concerns is that there is consistency from event to event to event," he said. "We don't want to see wildly varying sanctions for similar acts."

On many nights, you can find plays that are called penalties that could result in suspensions in some games but don't warrant even a two-minute minor in others. There is no standard in this new NHL by which to measure dangerous hits.

Kelly admonished the Flyers for their five suspensions this season and met longer with them than the 23 other clubs he had talked with so far. One topic Kelly addresses with every club is "mutual respect."

The overriding concern among the players, Kelly said, was the disintegration of respect throughout hockey with regard to violent acts on the ice.

"We have heard from the players pretty much on every team that there has been some lessening of respect in recent years," Kelly said, adding that some people, Campbell included, believe the issue goes back decades and is not a recent trend.

Kelly said that "guys on the ice feel there are instances where people are taking unnecessary shots - throwing an extra elbow, hitting a defenseless guy, hits to the head - that need to be wiped out. . . . It's got to start with the players themselves.

"They have to have respect for one another. On any given time, they could be on the receiving end of one of those disrespectful hits. They have to respect their fellow opponents."

Most teams advocate tough sanctions on those kinds of hits, Kelly said.

Kelly declined to divulge what he said to the Flyers other than to note that the meeting ran longer.

"He didn't holler at us," player rep Derian Hatcher said. "Not yet, anyway."

Quotable

Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, on the New Year's Day Ice Bowl outdoor game between the Sabres and Pittsburgh that will be played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Bills: "I think cold does a lot more to you than you think. I think we should grab one of those survival books and figure out what those guys do to survive in the wild. You can get dehydrated very quickly in the wind and the cold, just the same way you can as if it's hot out. So you have to be aware of that."

On the NHL |

Frustrating time

Like most clubs this season, Anaheim, the defending Stanley Cup champion, continues to struggle for consistency. Sound familiar, Flyers fans?

Scott Niedermayer's return forced the Ducks to unload Andy McDonald, a critical member of last season's Cup run.

"We're not sitting here feeling real good about ourselves from a standpoint of what we've accomplished," coach Randy Carlyle told the Canadian Press. "We believe we're better than a .500 hockey club. Five hundred more than likely is not going to get you in the playoffs.

"It's been frustrating because we haven't found the key. We have been unable to unlock some of the magic, or the effort, the execution, that desperation, that we were able to display for an extended period of time last year.

"That's probably the most frustrating thing. We're just looking at ourselves. 'What's going on? Why, why, why?' "

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.