The never ending “head-shot” debate has hit a fever pitch in Canada and the usual suspects are one step away from rioting in the streets if the GM’s of the league don’t make an expected rule change in the coming days. The phrase “ad nauseum” doesn’t even begin to describe the frantic hand-wringing by the hockey media who are now actually making significant headway in eliminating big hits from the NHL.
Because make no mistake about it, if you make all contact with the head a standard penalty, you are slowly but surely going to eliminate all big-hits from hockey or at least create a scenario where every hit, even minor ones, are going to be scrutinized creating another mess similar to the “toe in the crease rule” that plagued and embarrassed the league in the late 90’s. If you think it’s a big topic now, wait until each hit is analyzed to death every single night with pundits wondering whether the ref made the right call or not. In essence we are headed towards the NBA on Ice or Major League Soccer where diving and faking injury is just as important as scoring points.
The very mechanics of big hits virtually ensures the head is going to be involved.
Think about it.
The hitter is running into a player who is skating, which means that his head is lower by virtue of the fact that no one skates perfectly upright. If the hitter puts his shoulder into the skating player, it’s going to either hit his head, his shoulder or his high chest. If it hits his high chest or shoulder, the player’s head is on a thing we call “a neck”, which is a swivel. The momentum of the head will ensure it goes forward or sideways bringing it into contact with the hitter’s shoulder. If that doesn't happen, chances are the head is going to hit the ice. Maybe fans would prefer players go for gut shots. Or maybe they don’t want hitting at all.
There is no way around it unless you outlaw all hitting with the exception of old-school hip-checks. And we all know that hip-checks can just as easily turn into a situation where a player’s knee gets taken out if the hitter is off by just a few inches.
So then there will be a predictable uproar about knees getting hurt and grown men will cry for the poor millionaire athletes who sacrifice their bodies for our country….. errrrrrr…. our entertainment. (Isn’t it funny how fans are so critical of “millionaire players” nowadays and call them lazy and selfish on talk radio shows all day long but they recoil in horror at the idea of one getting hurt on a legitimate hockey play. Maybe the one way Dany Heatley can win his way back into the hearts of Sens fans is to take a big hit and watch all the pity flow his way from north of the border. You can’t cheer for that folks. That would be hypocritical.)
This is, after all, a sport. It’s entertainment. These athletes get paid a lot of money to endure physical risk. Anything above and beyond the norm is always dealt with by supplemental league punishment or in some extreme cases, actual legal proceedings against them. You can argue the punishments are lame, and I would tend to agree with you, but that doesn’t mean the sport must be revolutionized to eliminate an incident which is surprisingly rare when you consider the amount of collisions that take place during an average NHL game.
So please, give us all a damn break.
I realize that a new rule is virtually a fait accompli, but let this be my last words on the subject, right or wrong.
There is already a penalty for attempting to injure players who are defenseless (which seems to be the major stigma here). Just make the refs call it in appropriate situations, much like the league forced the refs to begin calling obstruction after the lockout.
There is no need to create another rule which will only further dull the product to appease new generation NHL fans who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, let alone the history and tradition of the game. These people will also be the first ones to turn the dial to something else when the sport they helped change seems about as exciting as an All-Star game (which contains no hitting and is a constant target of many of the same pundits for being terrible to watch!!!!)
If you want NBA on Ice, then follow the herd of pundits and bloggers down the path to invented crisis after crisis. If you want to preserve the dignity and excitement of the NHL, then let your voice be heard to at least offer some resistance to this pointless daily exercise that somehow passes as vital discussion.
Another thing to ponder - If a new rule is passed specifically banning intentional contact with the head, this inevitably opens the door to banning fights in the NHL. How can you allow hits to the head in one situation and not in another? It doesn’t work that way. A punch to the head can be just as damaging as a shoulder.
But maybe that’s the ultimate goal. The same people who want big hits out of hockey are probably not fond of fighting either.
In the meantime, we can all look forward to the endless debate.
Who won the game last night? Who scored a nice goal? Who cares?
The real question is who got hit and should we start a charity telethon to help them make it through their paid convalescence?
A take I happen to agree with:
Greg Wyshinski - Puck Daddy
"I'm not in favor of banning all contact with the shoulder to the head on hits, because it would penalize what are essentially good hockey plays (Doug Weight's hit on Brandon Sutter, close to the blindside but just a nasty open-ice hit) or the types of collisions that make hockey more entertaining for me (Ovechkin's hit on Jagr in Vancouver, which by the letter of the IIHF law was a head shot and should have been penalized).
I spoke with Keith Primeau when we were on TSN's Off The Record about the head shots issue as it relates to fighting, because I have a problem with fans or pundits screaming "protect the brains!" one minute and then having a winking endorsement of fists slamming against those brains the next. I find it an illogical stance, from a player safety standpoint.
Primeau said the difference was that a player doesn't ask to be hit to the head, but willfully accepts the risk in a fight. My argument is the player accepts risk by playing in the NHL, and that the League can only do so much to protect them in what is an inherently violent sport. "