The eight-game suspension handed to Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ron Hextall on Tuesday is an indication that the National Hockey League is "moving towards taking the fighting out of the game," according to Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile.

Hextall, the Flyers' rookie goaltender, received the suspension for a stick-swinging incident in the fourth game of the Stanley Cup finals against Edmonton on May 24. Midway through the third period, Hextall wound up and struck a wicked blow to the back of the right leg of Oilers forward Kent Nilsson.

Although Hextall was given only a five-minute major penalty at the time, he was handed the stiffer one following a hearing in Toronto June 10. The suspension will be served in the first eight games next season.

"I think the league is starting to step up suspensions in regard to stick violations," Poile said. "I think the NHL feels that multi-player brawls have no place in the game, and if they do happen, that it's going to cost players involved dearly in terms of fines and suspensions."

Poile added that he expects the league to take a "major step" towards stiffer penalties for such altercations prior to the next season.

Brian O'Neill, the NHL's executive vice president, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. He announced the suspension Tuesday from his Montreal office.

"There is no justification for any player to swing his stick in retaliation and this is especially the case for a goaltender whose stick, because of its weight, can cause serious injury," O'Neill said in announcing his decision. "There is no disputing the fact that the blow was severe and deliberate."

Flyers General Manager Bobby Clarke said he will not appeal the suspension. According to the Associated Press, he said he was not happy with the suspension but that the Flyers would accept it.

"I think it was a little stiff, but that's what the league decided to do," Clarke said. "It isn't going to make any difference what I think . . . we'll live with it."

Edmonton Coach Glen Sather was not available for comment yesterday, and team spokesman Bill Tuele said the Oilers are not commenting on the severity of the suspension. Tuele said the Oilers would have liked the suspension to have been meted out during the playoffs. The Oilers went on to win the final series, 4-3.

Poile said there is a sizable faction in the NHL -- including him -- who would like to see suspensions decided on immediately after an incident occurs. But he said the league has been consistent in its timing, and thought this particular suspension was appropriate.

"I have to think it's got to help Ron Hextall to realize, if anything, the amount of games he will be missing," Poile said. "That has to have an effect on the team, his ability and his pocketbook."

According to league rules, Hextall will lose a percentage of his annual salary {believed to be $200,000} while he's out of action. He will be allowed to play in training-camp exhibitions and the Canada Cup tournament in August.

Hextall has not been available to comment.

In other developments, Poile said the Capitals will offer new contracts to center David Jensen and defenseman Larry Murphy. Both of them become free agents next week.