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.