Posted 9:59 AM ET | Comments 7
I have been saying to anyone that will listen (not many)...for some time now...that it's not hits to the head that are the problem in the NHL, it's the blindside hits that create the most potential for injury.
I'll get to that more in a second...
When it comes to hits to the head, the NHL is in a very difficult spot in terms of making rules that apply specifically to that case.
Because as long as you allow 2 players to drop their gloves and pummel eachother in the face with punches, any rules you make about hits to the head are going to carry a certain irony with them.
"Listen, it's illegal for you to make contact with a guys head during a check...but feel free to throw off your gloves and bash his face in with your fist...you'll just sit in the box for 5 minutes."
Granted, I am over simplifying this to a pretty good extreme, but I think you get my drift. The NHL does not want to eliminate fighting in the sport, so whatever rules they make about hits to the head have to be very well thought out.
Back to my main point...blindside hits.
The Matt Cooke hit resulted in contact being made with Marc Savard's head. Savard is injured and the uproar insues.
What if Cooke had caught Savard's shoulder or arm instead?
Obviously, the likelyhood of a concussion is less, but it's still present because there would almost certainly have been some type of whiplash affect.
My argument here is that the hit the the head is actually a secondary concern in this case. The fact that Cooke hit an essentially defenseless player who had just taken a shot, is really what the issue is to me.
It's a tougher situation to make a rule for, but not impossible.
The problem arises in the definition of "defenseless".
I think in the grand scheme of things, players know when another player is defenseless...and most of the time it is when the hitter is approaching from the side or from behind.
In Matt Cooke's case, it's pretty clear that he knew Savard "never saw it coming".
I think these situations, with the proper instruction from the league about what is allowed and what is not, can be managed and penalized by the rules (assuming new ones are written).
If the NFL, where the main objective IS to knock guys down on every play, can create rules to protect the quarterback after he throws, and protect unsuspecting players that suddenly become free targets (the Hines Ward Rule) then surely the NHL can construct similar rules with applicable penalties.
Despite what some believe...that it's too tough to enforce or that it will take hitting out of the game...I think it's possible and has become necessary.
If NHL players can learn not to hook and hold (because the league took the time to clearly define what was legal and what was not), something that used to take place during every shift, then surely they can learn to pull up and not make a blindside hit. Most players already do this anyway.
It's time for the NHL and NHLPA to get on the same page with this one...
Define the situations.
Make the rules.
Punish those who break them.