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.