Friday, 13 January 2012

Hockey Head Shots

A recent article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at NHL regular season games from 1997-2004 and found that 559 physician reported concussions occurred.  This is a lot of concussions.  We know the problem is ongoing.  Concussions occur for a lot of reasons - falls, legal checks, fighting, getting pucks in the head.  What is most troubling, though is the deliberate head-hunting that goes on in the League.  Even NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan's strong statement of long suspensions for these types seems to be ineffective in curbing these types of hits.

I would argue that one reason the suspensions have been ineffective is because a lot of them are being perpetrated by third- and fourth-liners or seventh defencemen.  Not to understate the impact these players have on the outcome of the game, but they are easier to replace than a top-six forward or top four defenceman.  The solution, to me, would be to make sure the whole team pays for the miscreants.  How do you accomplish this?  My modest proposal would be to force the team to play with a shortened bench for the duration of the suspension.  A team is allowed to dress 20 players for a game.  Under my proposal, a team with a suspended player of whatever duration would not be allowed to replace that player, forcing them to dress only 19 players for the term of the suspension.  The system will effectively become self-policing with no player wanting to put their teams in that position and, I imagine, coaching staff and management would put that kind of player on a tight leash. 

Dinosaurs of the game like Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, who played in an era where you drank after games and all summer long and skated your way back into shape during camp and the season. would have you believe that punishing these head shots more harshly would effectively take hitting out of the game.   I think this is a red herring.  I use Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators as an example.  He is still laying BIG hits on the opposition and has never once been suspended for a dirty hit.
I look forward to hearing from you hockey fans about head shots in general, my proposal specifically or other views on how to deal with the head shot issue.


  1. I love the short bench idea. I don't think it'll ever come to pass because some would view it as overly punitive. That being said, why not ratchet it up a bit, shorten the bench AND fine the team an amount equal to the lost salary of the suspended player and use that money for research or the players fund. I'd also like to see them apply the fine against the salary cap. I like a good physical game but something has to be done to protect players from each other. Players are bigger stronger and faster and the body armoir they wear is over the top. We're almost at Roller Ball levels.

  2. I agree on everything you say. I know the board of governors and the league would never go for the idea. A lot of GMs are already griping about Shanahan's heavy handedness. They simply aren't serious about taking headshots out of the game. Fact is, the game is faster and the players stronger than they ever were in the 70's or even 80's. Plus, players don't seem to know how to protect themselves any more. Instead of going into the boards to get the puck sideways with their shoulder right up against the boards, they go in, turn their back to the play and stand two feet from the boards. They're asking for a concussion. I love a physical game, too. I use Chris Neil as an example because I know the Senators the best but he lays people out on a regular basis and has never been suspended.

  3. I think you make a really good point. I mean, if it's a team sport, it makes sense for the entire team to suffer when a player does something bad enough to warrant suspension. They're more likely to behave themselves if they know the rest of the team is going to be punished for their actions.