Wednesday Editorial: Stop the head-shots already

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Editorials on October 29, 2008 — 6 Comments

Hits to the head have become a recurring theme throughout this young season in the NHL and for good reason.  It seems that with each passing year, hits to the head by NHL players increase.  Now, I realize that players today are faster and stronger than ever before; but that, at least in this writer’s opinion, is not the reason for an increase in head shots.  Rather, the increase in head shots appears to be almost directly attributable to a distinct lack of respect among NHL player for one another.

The most recent head shot by Doug Weight on rookie Brandon Sutter (video here) was just another example of this lack of respect.  The thing is, many of these hits are “clean”; clean meaning that the hits are not charging penalties, hits from behind, or hits with hands to the face.  Instead, these hits are applied with shoulders down directly into the jaw of opposing players.  That, of course, is not illegal according to the NHL’s rulebook.  Hits to the head don’t seem to warrant any more attention than other penalty calls throughout a game and that is very unfortunate.

The NHL has a responsibility to protect its players and with its current rulebook and past precedents in terms of suspensions, the league has not held up its end of the bargain.  A hit like Weight’s on Sutter should garner at least a five-game suspension without pay.  The key being without pay, because players seem to lack the necessary respect to not injure opposing players without some kind of significant deterrent in their respective way.  Let’s face it, concussions are becoming more and more common, yet nothing significant has been done to lessen their constant occurrences.  More needs to be done to keep players like Simon Gagne, Matt Cullen, Patrice Bergeron and Brandon Sutter on the ice and not on the sidelines where their talents are seemingly wasted. 

Now, the NHL does have to be held accountable for the recurrent head injuries but the league is not alone in its culpability.  In fact, as much if not more of the responsibility should also fall upon the NHLPA.

Think about it.  The NHL can only do so much in terms of rules but the NHLPA has the ability to bring the players together and preach mutual respect.  If the Players Association is the common bond that brings all players together, and it serves its purpose quite well (see the current CBA) then why can’t it use its power and influence when it comes to player safety?  In my mind, it is incumbent on the NHLPA to start to take a more serious look at head injuries and why they continue to happen. 

Head injuries are a problem and if both sides do not act (quickly at that), then we are in line for more Brandon Sutter-like incidents and that is a real shame.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.


6 responses to “Wednesday Editorial: Stop the head-shots already”

  1. Drew says:

    More than once, in previous editions of Cold Hard Rants, I have lamented the lack of respect amongst NHL players. Now, I am glad to see Richard is joining the growing bandwagon that says enough is enough. My question is when will the NHL heed the growing call. The NFL protects it’s “star” players (the quarterbacks), my question is why won’t the NHL do the same for it’s star players (the skillful, fleet of foot players)? How many more times do we need to see superstars writhing on the ice, victims of fringe NHL players and their willingness to do whatever it takes to remain in the NHL, even if it means ruining the livelihood of one of their fellow players? The time has come for someone to wake Betts up from his dream that the NHL is working in the Southern U.S. and instead focus his attention on this important issue.

  2. goon says:

    Nice article, I am wondering how long it will take before the league starts looking into these legal but questionable hits.

  3. Kyle says:

    I have two thoughts on the matter:

    1. I am in the camp that would like to see a return to old school equipment. The softer style elbow and shoulder pads. Old timers like Brendan Shanahan played with very soft looking shoulder pads and it didn’t seem to affect his style of play nor did it lead to a spate of injuries. A shoulder or elbow will still hurt, but I don’t think it would cause the heightened damage we see today.

    2. I am all for players respecting each other, so long as it doesn’t turn the league into a glorified kids soccer game where everyone gets a trophy. I long for a return to the old days when players would fight each other on trains and cross the street rather than talk to an opponent. Hits meant to hurt should be discouraged, but the physical play needs to remain in the game, both for the hockey and for the fan interest.

  4. goon says:

    Good points Kyle, Don Cherry had a clip on the elbow and shoulder pads a couple of years ago and some of these pads are hard than the pads we had in football and they ARE a weapon. I am surprised more players aren’t hurt…

  5. Richard says:

    Totally agree on the comments about today’s padding. It has gone from being protective, to now being just plain dangerous.

    I think my biggest problem with Weight’s hit (as just one example) is that Weight could have let up just a bit, still laid a big hit and not put Sutter out for a while. I love physical play but there needs to be a certain respect–similar to what the league needs in regards to hitting from behind.

  6. Kyle says:

    Agreed that Weight could have let up. I think that a balance has to be struck between the respect that you mention and players looking after themselves. It seems a little Nanny-Statish (Drew’s Utopia) to suggest that we can allow all players to throw out the victim card every time they get hit. The fact is checking is allowed and players have to recognize that fact, or else accept the consequences.

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