The National Hockey League began its preseason media blitz yesterday with a heightened awareness on the head injury in the sport of hockey. Last season the NHL adopted Rule 48, banning blind side contact to the head, it was later expanded at the Winter General Manager Meetings to include lateral contact.
At the same time other leagues were continuing with their rules of no head contact; International Ice Hockey Federation (international sanctioning body of the sport), the NCAA, and possibly the biggest contributor of NHL talent the Ontario Hockey League. The NHL with the ingrained “tough guy” mentality of the general managers and the deep seeded tradition of the game seem to be missing the point.
The league’s best players, mainly the goal scoring forwards, were recently in New York as part of a media day (as the NY Times was in attendance) and all 17 were asked about outlawing all contact to the head;
Seven said yes; four said no; six said they were not certain.
“I agree 100 percent,” said Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay forward who has scored 119 goals in three seasons, when asked whether he favored penalizing all contact to the head.
“We have to be accountable as players for where your shoulders are or where your elbows are when you go to make a hit,” Stamkos said. “If a guy’s in a vulnerable position, don’t hit him. Take the puck, rub him out; you don’t have to hit him — hopefully that will prevent some more concussions.”
As the NHL starts the season without it’s “top talent and player”, Sidney Crosby, perhaps the general managers and the players “of a certain age” need to realize that banning the shots to the head may actually be in their and the leagues best interest. It is merely a perceptual change that most are struggling with, just like the National Football League and the increased enforcement of head contact. Rather than looking at it from a perspective of “taking the physicality out of the game”, the players and GM’s should acknowledge that respect for one another on the ice should be paramount. As Stamkos said you don’t have to lower the boom on a player that has his head turned, simply rubbing him out of the play will accomplish the same thing.
The bigger issue now facing the NHL, in light of the recent suicides of former enforcers, is the role of fighting in the NHL. Should it be banned, should it remain the same; a very difficult decision that needs to be made by some of the most staunch ‘old school’ guys of the hockey world. However if they remove fighting, then all contact to the head should be eliminated, whether intentional or on accident.