With the N.H.L. general managers meeting underway in Boca Raton, Florida, only one proposed change to the on-ice product surfaced. General managers are leaning toward recommending a rule change that would penalize some, but not all, hits to the head under current NHL rules.
I italicized the words leaning toward to highlight the current language of the rule change. The general manager’s haven’t gone far enough. To make the game safer, N.H.L. general manager’s need to ban hits to the head.
The numbers on head hits in N.H.L. games are revealing. According to Colin Campbell, the N.H.L. director of operations, and Gary Meagher, a league spokesman, noted about seven hits a game are shoulder-to-head hits. Both studied 21 league games, which showed an average of 22 hits to the head per game, from a light brush with a glove to a heavy blow. In all of those games, or 462 instances, there was one penalty called.
Clearly, there is an issue here with needs to be fixed. While the general managers don’t want to see any of the physical aspect taken out of the game, they need to institute a safer rule on head hits. Just look at the recent hits from Matt Cooke, Chris Neil, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. This is an issue which needs to be addressed. The N.H.L. Players Association proposed a rule change last season to ban shoulder checks to the head, such as in the Ontario Hockey League and the International Ice Hockey Federation. Hits like these aren’t a new problem. With the players calling for a change last year, these problems existed before. With the speed of the game increasing, especially after the lockout, hits became more violent, and the chances of injury increased significantly. But the league has been slow to respond, and they need to step up and address this issue. The league needs to follow the call of the N.H.L. Players Association and ban shoulder-to-head hits.
By banning shoulder-to-head hits, the N.H.L. can control the physical aspect of the game. We all enjoy the big hit. And it has its place in the game. A big hit can change momentum or send a message to the other team. But these hits should be delivered in a way that can still protect the players. Without that insurance, we can continue to see players laying face down or back up, lost as to where they are.
As Doug Wilson, general manager of the San Jose Sharks said, “We all like hitting; it’s a big part of thisgame. But there’s a line that gets crossed, and people are getting injured.”
If general managers ban these hits now, they can be almost eliminated by the end of the season. Yes, it’s going to be difficult to adjust for players. There may be an increase in penalties called, which can be frustrating. But in the long run, it’s better to be frustrated to make the game safer than blatantly allow a dangerous hit to continually take place. The N.H.L. can also ease players into the transition. Begin giving players a two-minute minor for hits to the head. Creating a penalty would begin to eliminate the use of the hit throughout the lead. I could even see giving a five-minute major for the hit as well. Both would begin to transition the players into the new rules. Starting next season, each hit to the head should carry a mandatory game suspension, with length depending on the severity and intention of the hit. While this may not eliminate every hit, it will vastly reduce the number of instances these dangerous hits could possibly occur.
Limiting these hits wouldn’t take away from the physical nature of hockey. Trust me, the N.H.L. won’t becoming a no-check roller hockey league. Players can still take the body and make huge, earth-rattling hits. Banning shoulder-to-head hits makes those hits, and the game overall, safer. In the end, that’s what players, coaches and fans want to see.
Photo Credit: The Hockey News