The NHL has repeatedly made moves to lessen the intensity of rivalries, probably in large part due to Todd Bertuzzi. But the fact of the matter is, rivalries in sports, particularly hockey, is strongly tied to violence. So when Danny Briere received a three game suspension for this crosscheck to the face of Nielson - after the referees already ruined what could have been an exciting affair consisting of much hated Dan Carcillo fighting Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro, among other attractions - the league made it clear that developing rivalries in ways other than forcing teams to run up the score by penalizing players for so much as looking at each other was just not in their plans. Why is three games so significant? Because the third game is against the New York Islanders.
It's easy to point out that Briere is a repeat offender, having been suspended for high sticking Brian Leetch in 2006. However, I agree with Briere's sentiment that his suspension should not by any means be longer than Hjalmarsson's. I don't like the guy, and I don't think highly of him, but Briere is not a dirty player. Gutless, sure, but dirty? I disagree. So what is the purpose of suspending him for three games? Shane Doan got 3 games under the new blindside hit rule. Or what Evgeny Artyuhkin got for slew-footing last year, or what Tuomo Ruutu got for boarding Darcy Tucker and sending him to the hospital, or what Mike Green got for a nasty elbow to Frolik's head last year, and so on. Briere doesn't even injure a guy, and per his account (and what I have come to agree with based on replays), doesn't even make contact with his stick, and gets suspended just as long. I believe Briere was trying to defend himself, as he is a gutless coward and uses his stick to do that, but I would not in a million years believe he was trying to hurt a guy with his stick like that [Ovechkin retribution excluded].
For the sake of building rivalries, let him play against the Isles (better yet, no suspension at all). Let the Islanders handle it. If they thought it was so dirty, let them deal with it. It seemed to me that the main problem the Islanders had was with Carcillo's actions - decking Nielsen from behind and then trying to fight DiPietro. Either way, Briere's suspension takes some of the heat off of the rematch. He was the source of controversy, got play on Sportscenter, and now is missing 3 games because of an incorrect perception from a man notorious for erring in situations like these.
Doesn't the league want to build anticipated matchups, especially involving teams that otherwise get little to no positive attention such as the Islanders? It makes no sense to send a boat out with no sails, which is exactly what the NHL is doing by taking away a critical part of sports matchups - ill will towards the opponent.