Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Headshot to the NHL

If the NFL has had the most publicized concussion issues, then the NHL isn't too far behind. But what these two leagues share in problems, they differ in discipline. The NFL may have been too hard on guys like James Harrison, but if he was playing in today's NHL, he may have only been suspended for a few games. The NHL wants to be tougher on concussions and headshots, but how can you be when someone broke their neck, and the hitter wasn't suspended? It's not a double standard,  because there is no standard.

The NHL's biggest star hasn't played since January due to concussions. There were no suspensions handed out at all, and not only have the Penguins suffered, but so has the league. So has begun the ever intensified debate of headshots. The Penguins have centered this debate, with Mario Lemieux's comments about eliminating headshots, while they have Matt Cooke, who may be the league's most infamous instigator. Just today, Cooke elbowed Ryan McDonagh, and who knows how many games he'll get, but he's a repeat offender that should get at least 10 games. The Penguins were involved in a now famous brawl with the Islanders back in February where Trevor Gillies, an Islanders instigator, got a 10 game suspension. If the league wants to eliminate headshots, they must suspend Cooke for many more than 10 games. Gillies had no prior offenses, and he got slapped with 10 games. Cooke seemingly has a dirty hit every night, and has basically escaped everything the league could have thrown at him. Why? Every hockey fan asks this question, and all we get are empty promises.

The NHL wants to eliminate this kind of hit, yet lets Zdeno Chara, who broke Max Pacioretty's neck, off with nothing so much as a fine and public ridicule. How can the league let this slide? Somebody will eventually die from their injuries on the ice, and Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman will bear the blame. These blindside hits have no place in the NHL, and for no fault of anyone, the worst punishment any of the players get is an ejection plus a 5 minute major. After the game, nothing happens and everyone moves on like nothing happened. Except somebody got concussed. And with the studies showing all of the brain injuries related to headshots, this is a serious problem, and nothing is being done about it.

Many say that the face of the game will change because of this, that we won't see old time hockey any more. But, I'll sacrifice old time hockey not to see someone die on the ice surface. In order for this not to happen, and no one to lose any more star players, the league needs to suspend these players who go after other players who are defenseless. It doesn't matter if the players have high tech helmets, or the stanchions aren't padded anymore, concussions will happen because this is the nature of the game.

In America, the most publicized concussion issues come from the NFL. The NFL disciplines players, sometimes maybe too hard, and the same problems arise when these hits happen. Do we have to sit by and watch 2 of the best sports on the planet die a slow death due to concussions? No, but the NFL has sent a message about what needs to happen in order to eliminate these injuries. The NHL hasn't done that. Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell need to send a message, and the way to do that is through suspending the violators of the rules, and not just giving them paltry majors and game misconducts.

When youth hockey registration in Canada goes down, you know something is wrong. And it all goes back to the safety of the game. If the NHL and hockey organizations crack down on these hits, maybe this issue will die down. But, the major problem is finding a happy medium, and the only way to get there is to suspend guys like Matt Cooke, Zdeno Chara and Douglass Murray for these hits. It has to be done.

There needs to be steps taken. The NHL hasn't taken them.

Writers Note: The day after this was written, Matt Cooke received a suspension for the rest of the regular season, plus the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

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