Headshots are the hot topic around the league now and I am glad. Let’s look at some possible ways to protect both the players and keep hitting in the game. These hits are not new to hockey; if you watch the NHL videos over the years these hits are advertised as a reason to watch the game.
Solution #1: It has to do with the speed and size of the players…I disagree with this rationale for the injuries. I know that these guys are moving at incredible speeds and are much bigger than the players of the past, but my argument is that both guys in the collision are bigger, wearing helmets and mouth guards. If the players use the equipment like quality mouth guards and helmets (tighten the chin straps fellas!), they are much better protected than any player in the 60s or 70s in the NHL.
Solution #2: The players do not respect each other…
I totally disagree with this belief around the league. In the old days, if you played for the Boston Bruins, there was a 1% chance or less that you would ever play for the Montreal Canadians. This created more long term rivalries than exist now. Players move from team to team like nothing. The NHL is a super-talented league of friends and acquaintances playing at the highest level. A guy that you take a run or cheap shot at, is on your team next year.
Solution #3: Change the rules to protect the players…No, no, no, no, no, please no more rules to interpret for the referees! They cannot enforce all the rules in the game now. The hitting from behind (aka boarding rule) has ruined hitting in the game. Players with the puck now purposely turn their backs to the defender to “take a hit” from behind and draw a penalty. I am sick of the players “drawing” penalties. The league should review every penalty call and publish lists to the referees that create penalties by diving like soccer players. This credit that players get for “embellishing” an act is awful. Every wide receiver in the NFL gets up after an incomplete pass and screams for a flag. Hockey is a sport that rewards hard work. You want to get a penalty called, keep your feet moving forward, if the guy is fouling you it will be obvious. The last thing the NHL needs is players lowering their heads to duck under a check and draw a “head shot” penalty. And of course the first version of this rule will be a 5 minute penalty and game misconduct (like the high sticking in the 80s – draw blood and you are gone)! The player with the puck needs to protect themselves. They must skate with their head up, be careful against the wall – don’t stand so far away from the wall with the puck, don’t admire the pass you just made.
Solution #4: So why now are these injuries occurring so frequently?
Simple this has EVERYTHING to do with the type of shoulder pads and arm pads that the players are wearing. These players are wearing a full suit of armor under their sweaters. To stop the results of these hits, the NHL should tell the manufacturer of the equipment to take the incredibly rigid plastic off the upper arms and shoulder pads. People always say that every old player got his “bell rung” and they kept playing, this is true and not true. Getting hit with an old style shoulder pad in the jaw probably would ring your bell, but these new pads hurt people regularly. Don’t believe me, go to a sporting goods store, pick up and elbow pad and hit yourself in the jaw. Now go to the Hall of Fame and look at the shoulder pads of Bobby Orr or Bobby Clarke. They protected the player and didn’t injure the other guys.
I don’t want to hear that these pads protect the players; I am all for keeping the heavy armor on the player’s legs, knees, hips, ankles, etc. Let’s keep this armor on the goalies. However the regular players should be re-equipped with the old style shoulder pads and elbow pads. Without these “weapons” on their upper bodies, these players will slow themselves down before delivering the open ice hits. Problem solved! And for anyone that says Bauer, Jofa, etc. will lose money, remember this, they have to re-equip the entire hockey world (NHL and AHL) plus major junior, European leagues. So don’t cry for the manufacturers.
So this equipment change solves the issue, allows the hitting to stay in the game, forces players to remember that the hit they deliver may hurt their body as well, and allows the manufacturers to make some money. Where is the downside?