TURNING IT DOWN A NOTCH

Listening to Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini today, I’m wondering if the NHL is about to reassess and employ more stringent interpretations of existing rules with an eye to player safety.

I’m also thinking that doing so, in addition to amendments and additions made to the rule book regarding head-shots, is something worth looking at because it won’t remove the elements that make hockey what it is, it would simply apply reasonable standards — standards, one could argue, that once existed but have been stretched too far.

Would hockey become ringette if the NHL decided to take a stride or two away from what is now considered a reasonable run at an opposing player where it regards the charging rule?

Are we asking for Stars on Ice if officials interpret the existing rule on boarding more strictly? Is the concept the purpose of body contact is to separate an opposing player from the puck, rather than from his senses, just too un-YouTube for fans today?

Would turning things down a notch ruin the game?

IT’S IN THE BOOK

Head shots have been hogging the headlines in recent weeks and were high on the agenda at just-completed meetings of NHL general managers attended by Tambellini. Rightly so, given concerns about injuries in general and concussions in particular.

After listening to an interview Tambellini did with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Lunch today, it occurred to me the NHL might be able to scale back the mayhem and better protect players by tweaking interpretations of existing rules on boarding and charging, as opposed to trying to gut the game of its physical dimension. First, a partial definition the rules:

BOARDING RULE 41.1: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the referee.

CHARGING RULE 42.1: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

TAMBELLINI’S TAKE

Here’s what Tambellini told Stauffer about the tone of meetings where it regards the above.

"It’s a lot of the other things that have crept into our game," Tambellini said. "We see the excessive force in a boarding hit, the excessive force in a charging hit that maybe they’re not direct blows to the head, but they result in concussions to our players.

"I don’t know if the game has either evolved and we’ve all accepted it, whether players and media and fans, just that that’s a normal part of the game, but it shouldn’t be.

"That’s what the message was. The league really did a great job of showing us the progression of what it was like in the 1970s, 1980s up until now. The type of hits that evolved in our game. Going back to the definitions of what charging, what boarding are.

"When you read them, it really captured a lot of the things that we weren’t sure or not whether or not we should call. So many of these hits, excessive speed and distance travelled in a charge are resulting in concussions.

"Excessive hits to players who are vulnerable, not expecting, in a defensive zone against glass, and sometimes it’s not the right type of glass. There’s a lot of things that we can control to eliminate those type of hits. It’s a complex issue. It’s something that needs to be taken care of. I was pleased that the group was all on board that we wanted to eliminate as much as we possibly could . . ."

WHAT SAY YOU?

Would lessening the acceptable distance travelled and speed generated to deliver a check take the edge off the game? I’m not talking about reducing contact to an "Excuse me" bump, but rather something in the middle ground between that and "I’m going to bury this guy."

Would limiting the ferocity of hits delivered on or near the boards by a degree or two, whether a head shot is involved or not, make the game less appealing to fans? Would it be OK with the ticket-buyers if checks on the wall were intended to only knock the target into the first row of seats as opposed to the third row?

We keep hearing players today are bigger, stronger and faster than they used to be, and that’s provably true. So, instead of talking about making ice surfaces bigger — yes, owners will be clamouring to take out rows of prime seats in their buildings — might it not be simpler and more prudent to keep the size and speed of today’s players in mind when applying the existing rules?

It makes sense to me, but then I’m one of those sissies who is wondering if fighting still has a place in the game.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Aitch

    I haven’t seen this suggested anywhere else before and, admittedly, it’s a pretty radical idea. I’d like to see the NHL bring in 1-period suspensions. It’s essentially like a combination between suspensions and penalties.

    With today’s video replay abilities, the video replay folks could re-watch the game afterwards. Any check that is deemed to be unacceptable, ie. jumping at a player, hitting from behind when the player didn’t just turn at the last second, elbows raised needlessly into someone’s head etc, would result in a one-period suspension for the next game. If the player doesn’t dress, the suspension doesn’t get served. If the player (like SMac) dresses but doesn’t play a shift, it doesn’t count either.

    Coaches will be ticked off that they can’t use a player for one-period. Players won’t like the little hits to their wallets and eventually, people will learn to hit the way it was intended. And GMs will tend to shy away from players who continually cross the line as they won’t help the team as much.

    On another note, I don’t often agree with Don Cherry, but I’m completely in favour of the league banning certain equipment. MLB, bans the aluminum bat due to safety reasons. Why can’t the NHL ban the hard plastic elbow pads and even the composite sticks. The hard elbow pads probably are more damaging in terms of injury potential to the competition than they are a safety measure for the person wearing them. And the composite sticks, which are a waste of money when you consider the bang for the buck, only serve to give average shooters more whip which is probably leading to more injuries as well.

  • VMR

    You look at the rule book on Boarding and it’s hard to say that Chara didnt deserve that rather than an interference call. Looking at it in that light it might even have been worth a small suspension with the way that rule is worded, until now I was against a suspension but this opens the door to the possibility.

  • Chris.

    Turning it down a notch…

    Hmmmmmmm. Don’t see it it happening. Players who want to get drafted and eventually make it to the pro’s know they have to finish checks, punish the opposition, and show a willingness to put themselves in harms way.

    Dan Tencer interviewed Todd Nelson (Head Coach OKC) on the 14th: (page #2)

    http://www.630ched.com/Podcasts/Episodes.aspx?PID=1332

    Todd openly praises Hartikainen for not only “always finishing his checks”, but finishing them “hard”. Two minutes later he says the same thing about Teubert with an added bit of praise for the way he makes opposition always “pay a price” in front of the net and therefore has been “good for us.”

    This is cultural. This is systemic. This starts early. Players don’t hit to recover the puck anymore: they hit to punish the opposition… they hit to make them pay. Why else would so many of the top picks look more like Teubert and not Ryan Ellis?

  • D-Man

    Playing in the NHL is a privilege, not a right, I think if those privileges starting being revoked from players who go far over the line, the unnecessary violence would decrease dramatically.

    If the league wants to send a real message, then the next time someone gets injured from a dangerous check, the offending player should be forced to sit out as long as the injured player is, whether that’s 2 weeks or 6 months and suspend their pay for that time. If that doesn’t get the message to sink in that that sort of behavior is not acceptable, nothing will.

    • D-Man

      I disagree… The suspension shouldn’t matter whether the player hit is injured or not… A hit from behind, a head shot, etc – throw the book at the player like the NHL did at Cooke. Cooke’s losing about $275,000 from sitting out… His suspension IMO would be sufficient even if the Ranger he hit wasn’t hurt. That crap didn’t belong in the 70’s and it doesn’t now.

      Punishing the player via his cheque book would hurt them the most. That’s the only way these NHLer’s will ‘get it’…

      • Chris.

        That’s why I just said, in the instance of a dangerous play where a player gets injured, the offending player should be suspended, without pay, for the length of time the injured player is on IR.

        In instances where there’s a dangerous play but no injury, then pick a suitable punishment and suspend his pay.

        I’m definitely all for suspending a player, and his paycheck, for acting like an animal on the ice. Moreso, I think longterm year-long, or lifetime suspensions should have been handed out in several instances (Cooke on Savard, Downie on McAmmond, among others).

  • D-Man

    A DANGEROUS PLAY RULE finally meeting with some seriousness ? Should have been implimented years ago like most other major contact sports . Won’t eliminate it all , but certainly curtail it and psyche of players .

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    There are two suggestions that seem to make sence here for me. Get rid of the plastic caps on the upper body equipment. A combination of neopreem and kevlar would do wonders for protection w/o plastic caps.
    And Enlarging the rinks to say be Olympic size.
    Wouldn’t that give the players equal footing at international events. It could happen with all new rinks getting the new size ice surface and replaceing the old rinks as they get to old. This way they build the rink bigger and the owners don’t lose revenue.

  • This reminds me of my days as a young hockey player. I can recall playing a year of single “A” hockey immediately followed by a year of “AAA” hockey. I remember thinking at the start of the year that the hitting would be more intense and frequent, but found it was exactly the opposite. The skill and speed was so much greater that many of the hits were just getting in the way and were truly about separating the opposition from the puck. It was great hockey. There was still the occasional big hit, but for the most part those were away from the play.

    Not to compare Bantam “AAA” to the NHL, but I think all we’re talking about is those infrequent big hits that are really causing the damage. I can’t say that I’d miss them that much. I’m far more focused on the skill involved in making a nice pass or scoring a big goal/save. As much as I enjoy watching someone get totalled I’m Ok without it. I have UFC for that.

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    Watching the oilkings playoff game on shaw, right out of the gate, Red Deer’s captain trys running Pysk through the endboards worst part about that is they have that glass that has no give. This is not just a NHL problem this is a generational problem, the accepted standard today? Yes the puck is there but I would call that charging.