Ken Dryden was an amazing goalie in the NHL, and has been around long enough to see the transformation of the sport. Hockey is a very exciting game to watch and really many are missing out on its action. I continue to tell everyone that there is nothing like a NHL game in the stands, probably the best event one can go to (unless you score a Game 7 ticket in the playoffs). The issue that Dryden is taking on is one that I have been clamoring for – for a long time – remove shots to the head. Dryden wrote his article for Grantland and is calling on the NHL and NFL to start playing “head smart”;
This is a difficult time for the NHL, for its commissioner, Gary Bettman, and for hockey. It’s no less difficult for the NFL, for its commissioner, Roger Goodell, for the NCAA, and for football. Head injuries have become an overwhelming fact of life in sports. The immensity of the number, the prominence of the names, the life-altering impact on their lives, and, more disturbing, if that’s possible, the now sheer routineness of their occurrence. The Crosby hit didn’t seem like much. If it hadn’t been Crosby, the clip of the incident would never have made the highlight reel. And if so much can happen out of so little, where is all this going? Who else? How many more? How bad might this get? Careers and lives of players, we know now, have been shortened, diminished, snuffed out by head injuries. What once had seemed debatable, deniable, spin-able, now is not. What once had been ignored now is obvious. Not just contact or collision sports, hockey and football are dangerous sports.
Dryden does not suggest to Bettman, rather implores him to make necessary changes;
For Bettman, it’s time to say: This is a great game, but it has a big problem, one that will only get worse if we don’t do what needs to be done now. Our players will not get smaller, they will not skate slower, the force of their collisions will not diminish. The equipment they wear will not improve fast enough to mitigate the greater risks they will face. “Tweaking” is not the answer.
Immediately, Bettman can say, we need to treat any hit to the head as what it is: an attempt to injure. A hit to the shoulder, torso, or hip — depending — is understood as good positioning and good defense; not so a hit to the head.
For Gary Bettman, the challenge is not to be distracted by history, by the voices of those who grew up as “hockey people,” or by the overwhelming power of the status quo. He is the central custodian of the game. If he takes on head injuries aggressively — and he must — some of his changes might be ineffective, others may be embarrassingly inept, and he may very well be mocked by fans and the media. But he and we will learn, and it is far worse to be mocked by damaged players for not doing what clearly needs to be done.
Many of these steps can be implemented this season, and with significant impact if their purpose — to prevent or otherwise minimize head injuries — is not forgotten and the rules to support that purpose are applied unfailingly. Other steps will take longer and be of greater effect, but they can be set in motion.
The article is very enlightening, especially coming from a former player – a great – and provides a possible insight on how the game may look in the future with the changes. Dryden thinks that not much will change in the game with many players and may in fact make the game and sport better – a stance that I have said time and again. No matter the thoughts and machismo of the sport, we are clearly seeing that something must change, it has at lower levels, why then is the NHL so slow to change?