During the preseason, the NHL has tried to make the game more safe for the players. The NHL is currently testing hybrid-icing, and have cracked down on taking helmets off before a fight. But is the NHL really doing enough to make the game more safe?
When it comes to it, it is basically a crapshoot. It seems like no one can predict what the NHL will do to ensure the safety of its players. Whether it comes to disciplinary action or changing the rules, we can never be sure of what the NHL will do.
First, I like the hybrid-icing rule in the NHL. They tested the hybrid icing in the AHL for half a season and I had no problems with the rule. It makes players safe from any hard or unnecessary collisions along the boards that could result in injury. For example, Joni Pitkanen is going to miss the entire season for the Carolina Hurricanes due to complications from a broken heel. In a game against the Washington Capitals on April 2, Pitkanen was racing for the icing against Troy Brouwer when he lost his footing and slammed feet first into the boards. This play would have been avoided with hybrid-icing because the play would have been whistled down once the puck crosses the red line behind the net. Another example is when former Wild defenseman, Kurtis Foster, broke his leg in 2008. In a game against the San Jose Sharks, Foster and Torrey Mitchell were chasing after the puck for icing behind the Wild net. Mitchell pushed Foster from behind and Foster went hard into the boards, which resulted in a broken leg. With hybrid icing, Mitchell and Foster would not have had to race for the icing and Mitchell might not have pushed Foster. Hybrid-icing would significantly reduce the number of injuries resulting from trying to beat an icing.
The second rule that the NHL is trying to crack down on players keeping their helmets on before engaging in a fight. I believe that fighting has its purpose in the game, but when it is staged, there is no more room for it in the game. What the NHL wants is to keep players from removing helmets before a fight. If players remove their helmets before a fight, they are subject to an additional penalty. Already, Krys Barch and Brett Gallant have found a loophole by helping each other removing their helmets before they fought. What I am concerned with the most is what happens during a fight and the helmet comes off. It happens too often and sometimes it can have some serious consequences. Sunday night, Corey Tropp was involved in a fight with Toronto's, Jamie Devane, where Tropp was knocked out when he hit his head hard on the ice. Devane was able to knock Tropp's helmet off his head, but his own helmet stayed on. Tropp was driven to the ice, he hit the back of his head on the ice, and is now thought to have a concussion.
So what does the NHL do about fighting? They are doing their best to lower the amount of fighting, but they know it is part of the game and it will happen occasionally. But in order to keep players safe when their helmets come off, end the fight immediately. If the players fighting have one of their helmets come off as they fight, break it up and assess them the five minutes. If the players take the helmets off themselves before a fight, or do what Barch and Gallant did, make sure the fight does not ensue and assess each man a misconduct penalty. The NHL needs to stiffen their stands on penalties and suspensions to make the players learn what is acceptable or not. This would be a good start.
This topic has been discussed for many seasons, but is just beginning to make its impact on the players. Mandatory visors have been talked about for years now, and many more players are freely switching from not wearing visors to wearing visors. The topic heated up after Rangers defenseman, Marc Staal, took a slapshot to his eye. Staal recovered and is back playing, however he is now wearing a visor to protect his eyes. I believe that the NHL should mandate visors for every incoming player into the NHL. When the NHL made helmets mandatory, they allowed players who played without helmets before to play without helmets for the rest of their careers. Craig MacTavish was the last player to play in the NHL without a helmet. MacTavish played until the 1996-97 season and played all 17 seasons without a helmet. So with visors, make all incoming players wear visors and allow players currently in the NHL the choice of whether or not to wear a visor. It will keep the current players without visors happy and it will ensure the safety of all future players in the NHL.
In no way am I saying to ruin the toughness of the sport, I am trying to create some options on how to keep players safety a top priority in the NHL. The NHL wants to make the players safe and definitely want to avoid any lawsuit like the NFL has on concussions. You cannot avoid all of these from happening, but all three of these options would help the NHL be a much safer league for the players. Hopefully, we will not have to see any young player's career end because of an injury similar to these.
I miss any rulings or safety issues? Agree or disagree on my thoughts? Please leave a comment below or post me on Twitter @BraytonJWilson what I might have missed.
Thanks for reading!