PHILADELPHIA (AP) -The Flyers have been warned.
Another dangerous strike, another deliberate blow to the head of an opponent and more than just a player will be a suspended. The NHL is prepared to take severe discipline against the franchise, such as a hefty fine, if another Flyer needs to be punished again for an illegal hit.
"Obviously, we're under watch," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.
The latest penalty handed down by NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell against the Flyers came Monday. Forward Riley Cote was suspended for three games for using his elbow to strike Dallas forward Mat Niskanen into the boards in the third period of the Stars' 4-1 win on Saturday.
Cote, who leads the Flyers in penalty minutes with 61, is the fifth Flyer suspended already this season. The suspensions have ranged from two games to 25, only so far the organization has been immune from any additional punishment. Holmgren said he was warned by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Campbell that another incident like the first four could result in stiff consequences.
"One or two things can happen, even three, but five? Gary and I felt it was time to address it with Paul and say, 'You have to address this with your players, with your team."' Campbell said by phone from Toronto.
Holmgren said he talked with the Flyers about the league's concerns.
"We want to play hard, we want to play a physical style, but we want to play within the rules," Holmgren said. "The way it's going, it's going to have to stop."
The cheap-shot hits have made the Flyers wildly unpopular around the league, earning them comparisons to the 1970s-era Broad Street Bullies.
"I talked to Mr. Bettman today and Colie and I think they think like I do, that these are different coincidences, situations that have to be viewed differently," Holmgren said.
They might all seem the same to the unsuspecting players who get their heads spiked into the ice or slammed into the boards.
"I think five incidents in the first quarter of the season is probably high. It's unprecedented," Campbell said. "Are we saying the coach or the general manager have instructed the players to play this way and be more physical? Not at all. But there has to be some responsibility or accountability at some point in time on the coach, GM or organization."
Campbell declined to say exactly what kind of penalties the Flyers could face if another hearing is needed.
Much like the other suspended four who pleaded their case before Campbell, Cote was remorseful and apologized after practice.
"Just the way things are going, our reputation, for my role, I can't afford to have this happen," he said. "It's just unfortunate the way it's happened with our team. (We need to) finish our checks but no cheap shots."
Cote was given a match penalty for the hit. He will miss games Wednesday at Minnesota and Friday at Colorado.
"There were too many aspects of what we don't want in that hit," Campbell said. "They have to understand this wasn't an accidental play."
The Flyers will have forward Scott Hartnell back in the lineup against the Wild. Hartnell was suspended two games last week for checking Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Alberts in the head.
In the preseason, Steve Downie was hit with a 20-game ban after a high hit to the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond.
Jesse Boulerice was dealt the longest single-season punishment in league history when he earned a 25-game suspension for hitting Vancouver's Ryan Kesler across the face with his stick.
While a pair of 20-game suspensions might scare some teams into changing their conduct, the Flyers kept on going with their sticks and arms high.
"You'd think there'd be all kinds of signs," Campbell said.
Randy Jones was given a two-game suspension after he sent Boston's Patrice Bergeron face-first into the boards on Oct. 27. Bergeron hasn't returned to action since he broke his nose and sustained a concussion as a result of the hit.
If these hits aren't bad enough, the Flyers are even rumbling with each other. Danny Briere and Sami Kapanen got into a brief skirmish during a practice drill along the corner boards.
Kapanen said the incident was no big deal.
"I think it's just the frustration over the way we played the last game," he said. "We had a little meeting today and brought everything to the table."
The Flyers can only hope those frustrations stay on the practice ice and don't spill over in the games anymore.
"We're not out there to hurt anybody," Cote said. "We're out there to play hard."