Friday, January 14, 2011

The NHL's policy on head shots is a failure

We might as well all admit to failure. Many people recognized right away that the head shot policy the NHL cobbled together last season wouldn’t work. And it doesn’t. That’s because it tries to differentiate between different kinds of head shots.

A lot of the complaints are coming from people who believe it is too difficult in the course of a game to properly determine whether a collision was a blind side hit. Players who are not getting penalized for a blind side hit by on ice officials are getting subsequent disciplinary action by Whether it’s the result of a blind side hit, an accident collision, ramming someone head first into the glass or catching someone with their head down it has the same result – your brain gets scrambled. So how can you eliminate some hits to the head and not others? It makes no sense.

Hockey is split into 2 camps - the purists and the progressives. Don Cherry has different labels - real hockey people and the pinkos. Purists don't want to change the game from its original roots. The progressive recognizes the game continues to evolve and are not afraid to try new things. There is a lot of push and pull between the two camps.

Let's face it though, the game has evolved each decade for over 100 years. It used to be played out doors. At one time there were seven on the ice per team. Slapshots were at one time not part of the game. Goalies played without masks. Sticks used to be made of wood. They used to scrape the ice by manually between periods. Really what hasn't changed?

Maybe the most dramatic change has been the players themselves. When Frank Mahovlich broke into the league in the late 1950s he was considered a large winger which partly accounted for his nickname 'The Big M'. Mahovlich was 6'1" and 205 lbs. That is an average player today. Not only are players larger but they are quicker, stronger, and in better condition. Shifts are shorter which has sped up the game. Protective equipment has improved to the point where it can also be used to hit other players with. When the crackdown on obstruction occurred it also opened up the game by reducing interference and increasing hitting. All this things have made players more susceptible to head injuries.

Neurosurgeons will tell you that it is impossible to develop a helmet to protect players from head injuries. It is not the blow to the outside of the skull that creates the injury but the brain itself hitting the inside of the skull.

The best way to protect players is to remove hits to the head altogether by making them all illegal and introducing mandatory suspensions. It's not a perfect situation and will lead to unfair suspensions. Perhaps a player will get tossed from a game as a result of incidental contact with the head. But in the long run it will protect players- especially the star players. Everyone will adapt and change the way they deliver a body check and it will not eliminate hitting from the game. There will be no debating on whether it was a legal hit (such as the hit by Mike Brown on Ed Jovanovski). If a player is hit in the head you are gone.

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