Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Proposal for Dealing With Head Shots

The rash of head shots and the resulting concussions and injuries in hockey is a cause for great concern, Rightfully so. The debate rages about what to do about the head shots that are egregious and unnecessary and how to take them out of the game.

There are shots to the head that occur that are legitimately part of the game. Players get caught with their head down or get blindsided by a clean check. The fact that hockey is a collision sport precludes that these types of hits will happen. The hits that are in question often involve the use of an elbow, leaving the feet, or running a defenseless player into the boards. These are the hits that have to be addressed.

It has been said in many quarters that players have to respect one another. In so doing, these types of hits will be virtually eliminated. It is obvious that this level of respect does not exist, and perhaps never will. The number of injuries due to unnecessary head shots gives proof to the fact that respect for an opponent is not a deterrent.

The discipline meted out after an unnecessary and illegal hit is inconsistent and can seem capricious. There is no objective standard used, and often the punishment does not fit the action on the ice. If a fourth line player can take out the other team's scoring threat with a head shot and suffer an inconsequential suspension, there is no reason to change the behavior.

I'm not talking about hits like the one that Willie Mitchell put on Jonathan Toews. This was a hard and clean hockey play that resulted in Toews suffering a concussion. It was unfortunate for Toews, but he made the mistake of not keeping his head up and was hammered with a clean check. No, I'm talking about the the type of hit such as the one Curtis Glencross put on Chris Drury- one where the player away from the puck is blindsided by a shoulder to the head. A hit that is not part of a hockey play, and takes out a scoring threat for the opposition.

So what do we do about this type of hit? How do we take it out of the game and yet still allow hockey to be played physically yet cleanly?

I would propose the following. The head hunting shots- the hits to the head with an elbow, or by leaving the feet to launch oneself at a players head, or the headshots away from the play, would be dealt with a consistent level of punishment. That punishment would be an mandatory suspension of a predetermined number of games- five, ten, pick it, but the suspended games would be mandatory. Additionally, the player that committed the infraction would be suspended a number of games equal to the amount of games the injured player missed. So if the agreed upon mandatory suspension is five games, for example, and the injured player missed ten games because of the head shot, the player that committed the infraction would be suspended for a total of 15 games. Finally, his team would not be able to fill the roster spot during the term of his suspension.

This proposal is not meant to take away hitting- that is an integral part of the game. It is designed to take away the cheap shot to the head. It requires the league to be tough and consistent on these types of hits. It requires the players to agree on this type of action for these types of hits. It may just be the the type of action, however, that forces players to respect one another and think before they take that head shot. And that will be a positive change for the game we all love.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, and I agree with all of it except this:

    Additionally, the player that committed the infraction would be suspended a number of games equal to the amount of games the injured player missed.

    My issue with that is it allows too much leeway for opposing teams to affect the results. For example, Jarome Iginla takes out a fourth line plugger on Vancouver with a hit to the head. Vancouver can say that player is "injured" for longer than they would normally, in order to keep their rivals best player on the bench. Now it's moved from a punishment fitting the crime to a strategy used by a team to handicap their opponents by bending the original intent of the rule.

    That being said, you bring up some great points and I fully support the blanket 5-10 game suspension for dangerous hits to the head, along with the criteria you suggested. How the NHL hasn't done this already we may never know.