Recently, the NHL has been dealing with the major issues surrounding concussions. It seems that everyday fans are hearing more bad news about some of their favorite players. Numerous all-star game starters have been benched due to their poor head-health. There was even an article written on yahoo sports about an “all-concussion team” and how they would be a solid group of players.
Hockey has always been a rough game. Players are tough and hits are hard. But, concussions seem to be getting more common and increasingly serious. Captains Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins have both been out of commission with post-concussion symptoms for a period of months. Their returns have no definite time-table and fans are beginning to worry if it means the end of these iconic players’ careers.
Fans also seem to be worried that by changing too much in the game (and making concussions more avoidable), the integrity and fast-paced nature of the play would be lost. There is a line to be drawn; when is it okay to slow down the game or change it in order to keep players safe? The league has already ruled that all boards need to be made out of plexi-glass which has started to soften the impact of hits. But is plexi-glass soft enough? Where on the ice are the majority of detrimental hits happening? Is it into the walls, the ice, or the plexi glass? These are things the NHL should look at. Wherever the biggest danger is, they need to start there.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, has come out and sighted new concussion baselines and measures (which were seen on HBO’s 24/7) as something the NHL has improved on. But their new boards and baseline checks are not efficient enough. Concussions are still a major problem that both teams and fans are starting to notice. When the best players in the NHL are sidelined with head-injuries and past enforcers are starting to die from prolonged damage to their brains, drastic measures need to be taken to change the NHL.
So the question is what more can be done? Well the NHL has already changed the plexi-glass, created a department of player safety (I am sure you have all seen those Brendan Shanahan explanation videos), and apparently softer elbow and shoulder padding is in the works. I think if the NHL continues to make the ice a safer place for head-injuries eventually they will slow. I just hope the league can make these changes quickly enough that there are no more major career-threatening injuries and nothing that will destroy the feel of the game.
All and all, the NHL shouldn’t stop fighting in the league and shouldn’t turn the boards into memory foam. The league does need to make softer padding, enforceable punishments for illegal hits, and players need to be educated about how to deal with concussions properly and avoid hits that could cause them. Maybe the best way to avoid concussions is to make a larger playing area. With more space on the ice, players might have more room to play the game and skate rather than get locked up on the boards. Why hasn’t the NHL tested something like that?
At the end you mentioned the idea of a larger ice surface.
A larger ice surface would provide an advantage to better faster players and open up the game a little. It would be interesting to know if there is a measurable difference in the frequency and severity of concussions in European hockey where the ice surfaces are larger.
Also, in terms of fighting, it does not have to be banned completely, but I have 2 thoughts.
1. When 2 goons square off immediately following a face off (i.e. not heat of the moment fracas) there should be an automatic misconduct in addition to the fighting penalty. Gratuitous fighting, having nothing to do with the play, serves no purpose other than the wrong kind of entertainment.
2. When the Canada played the US in the Olympic Gold medal game the quality of play was outstanding. There is no fighting permitted in Olympic play. The lack of fighting did not take away from the checking, the speed of play, the skill level or anything else.
And let’s not forget the need to improve helmet design.
All well reasoned arguements and comments. But here’s the reality of what drives the NHL. What series of “hilites” on the video board at an NHL game draws the most attention and cheers? The fighting hilites. Even the so called staged fights (and if there is any doubt that many are staged, watch 24/7 from last year). When do the fans in an NHL arena all stand up (other than for the national anthem) and crane thier necks to see the action? When there’s a fight on the ice. Which series of annual hilites has sold out every year especially as Christmas gifts? Don Cherry’s Rockem Sockem videos. The NHL also has gone on record that they want to attract more hockey fans and tv revenue in the US. And what do thay think helps them to sell the game in the US? The rough stuff. In the sports world money rules. You can expect the NHL to only move on fighting (real or staged) if they are forced to do that. And of course, they are never going to agree to larger ice surfaces. The space for enlarged ice can only come by removing seats. Good luck convincing the NHL on that one!
In terms of widening the ice to improve the game by giving the players more room as they do in the Olympics, I too would like to see that. Unfortunately, teams would either need to incur some heavy construction costs or take out several rows of the highest revenue generating seats in the building.
Guys are now bigger and faster so a larger ice rink makes sense. Problem is lost seats. Personally I’d rather pay a little more and see Sid.
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I don’t like this. I don’t like this rule. I think all head hits should be illgeal. I don’t think a player should have to think about whether his brain is about to be scrambled eggs before looking across to take a pass, or reaching forward to intercept a pass or pick up a loose puck. The onus should be on the hitter: if you can’t find a clean hit without hitting head, back off. But no, we NHLers are a tough bunch and are willing to sacrifice the likes of Eric Lindros for the cause.