THE NHL IS SAFER…

I believe the NHL is much safer now than it ever has been, yet I don’t see many articles portraying that. Every time there is a borderline hit, or a spur-of-the-moment dumb decision that results in an injury to an opposing player, some pundits are quick to try and over blow the magnitude of the play.

Since the NHL implemented rule 48, there has been a drop in checks to the head. The players are getting the message.

Hockey is a fast game and brutality or violence is part of it. When you combine sticks, skates, speed, body contact and testosterone no one should expect the game to be played without incident.

Some players will make bad decisions, but I find we are focusing too much on one bad decision and trying to make it into something bigger.

Shawn Thornton’s decision to attack Brooks Orpik was wrong, and he’ll pay, likely with a double digit suspension this Friday. But we don’t need a full blown inquiry into the play. Incidents like Thornton’s are not a regular part of the game. I can’t recall the last time a player acted in the fashion that Thornton did. To me, it was a one-off and when Brendan Shanahan hands down the suspension on Friday, I’m sure players around the league will get the message.

James Neal is in the same boat. He made an idiotic play and he was rightly suspended, but knees to the head of opposing players aren’t a regular occurrence in the NHL.

We don’t need to show the Thornton or Neal highlight 500 times in every sports package. I don’t think the game needs that. When Alex Ovechkin scores four goals, it gets shown that night, but we don’t focus on it for four or five days. I’m not saying we ignore those questionable plays/hits, but I find that lately we focus on them more than we do the good aspects of the game.

I’m all for more concussion awareness and protocol, but we need to stop over reacting on every bad hit. When you combine body contact and the speed of today’s player, we will have the odd unfortunate play. This game is always going to have bad decisions; with the puck, with the use of sticks and how some body checks are delivered.

Last night, Riley Nash got a major penalty for hitting Corey Potter. Nash deserved the penalty, but I didn’t think it was a malicious or vicious play. Potter got into an awkward position millisecond before contact. It wasn’t a dirty play, but I do expect those types of hits to happen.

The only thing I would like to see the NHL focus on now, is more awareness and punishment for hits from behind. Crack down on those hits, just like the league did with rule 48. It can be a small adjustment, but the players will adjust and we can still enjoy a good, clean hit.

I loved watching Ovechkin score four goals, which is extremely hard to do, yet that accomplishment doesn’t get near the attention of a split-second dumb decision like Thornton or Neal’s, and I think that has to change. I’d like to see a feature on TV that has Ovechkin on one screen and Stamkos on the other, breaking down how they one-time the puck.

In Edmonton, you could do that with Yakupov, and see how different their set up and releases are.

The game of hockey is great, and I think it is safer than it has been in a long time, and it’s time we start applauding the NHL for taking steps to clean up their game. Trust me, I’m not one who likes to applaud Gary Bettman, but the NHL deserves credit for being proactive in limiting the amount of head shots in the game.

Do you think the NHL is doing a good job regarding player safety?

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RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

  • 2004Z06

    First off, well written Jason, couldn’t agree more.

    I think they overdo it way too much. Hitting is a part of the game, and add emotion and testosterone and aggression and things happen.

    Thornton will have his day to answer for what he did, and from that point on he’ll either learn from it or he won’t. On that note going to enjoy a hard fought battle tonight when the Oilers play the bad bad Bruins. Should be a good game!

  • 2004Z06

    While I would agree that we are seeing a decrease in hits to the head, I would like to see if the stats hold true over the next few years. It takes time to change culture and I wonder if the sample size is still too small.

    I would also ask if the decrease in hits to the head has lead to a decrease in head injuries as I believe they have increased. I understand that they are being diagnosed at a higher rate than they ever have been which isn’t to say that they simply weren’t diagnosed in the past.

    If the intent of rule 48 was to drive a decrease in head injuries, has it really been effective thus far?

  • Mjolnir

    Completely agree with JSR. I think if you are going to conduct yourself like orpik you need to answer the bell. And drive by kneeings to the temple surely have to do more damage than two six inch punches, unless Bruce lee is dishing them out. Between the suspensions, concussions, and broken ankle, this may be the most man games lost in one sittings for one team.

  • JSR

    Gregor:

    Do you really think the Thornton/Orpik incident warrants a double-digit suspension? Back in the Dave Brown Oiler days, I remember seeing him sitting on Jim Kyte, pounding his head into the ice, and doing the same to a Blackhawk in another game. Those did not warrant anything more than a 5 minute major….

    I understand that these events took place twenty years ago, but it looked to me as though Thornton was giving Orpik little rabbit punches.

    The knee to the head was a much more punishable offence, in my mind.

    Thoughts?

    • Jason Gregor

      Brown if you recall had fought Kyte. He was on top of him and he didn’t start feeding him more, until Kyte inexplicably tried punching up at him… bad decision..haha

      That was two willing guys. In this case Thornton kicked his feet out from behind, took him to the ice and punched him twice.

      In today’s game that is a 10 gamer or more most likely

      I hated the Neal play. I would have given him 10 games for that cheap shot…

  • Spoils

    The potter hit had more to do with potter being in an awkward position – the policy should be that when you hit someone and they get injured it is your fault as the hitter and you get suspended accordingly.

    The hitter protects the hittee and wants to ensure it is a safe injury free hit. It doesn’t mean you can’t crush someone in a hit, it means you need to avoid things like knee on knee, a player going into the boards funny.

    This next ask is ridiculous, but it might better align incentives – if you take out a top tier player like Ovechkin, your team looses their top tier player for twice as long.

    Obviously that last bit is ridiculous, but it is about trying to align incentives.

  • GoofyGoon69

    Great Article JG. Practically the first person I heard saying this. People overreact in some incident and I don’t blame them, it’s nature.

    And one question who should Mac-T put on the trade block to make a splash or “THE BOLD MOVE” he has been promising us? And when I say bold, bolder than the Perron trade. Probably as bold as the Seguin trade

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    “We don’t need to show the Thornton or Neal highlight 500 times in every sports package. I don’t think the game needs that. When Alex Ovechkin scores four goals, it gets shown that night, but we don’t focus on it for four or five days. I’m not saying we ignore those questionable plays/hits, but I find that lately we focus on them more than we do the good aspects of the game.”

    Couldn’t agree with this more. But, I’d add a caveat to it.

    It isn’t just hand-wringing over-reactions that drives up viewership of these plays. It is also the same basic human interest in violence, death, injury, etc. that leads to highway rubber necking.

    This same interest is part of the excitement fans/media share about hockey and the things you mention: speed, bulk, contact, etc.

    Or, people aren’t just watching to pull out their moral scolding soap-box (though many certainly are), they are also watching because they are curious and interested in seeing the live product of violence.

    As an example, look at youtube videos of Darnell Nurse dated prior to his draft:

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=darnell+nurse&sm=3

    They are almost entirely of his fights and hits.

    Or look at Anton Belov’s videos, esp. from the KHL. If you watched only those videos you’d have a completely distorted view of what that player is all about.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3r44G5whC94

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25t8dKVC6lQ

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHyK8NxosHM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a40dRpxAerg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7FmImzMwmw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y_IhmAjBFY

    We’ve seen almost 30 games of Belov and haven’t seen anything like that. Not because he lacks an edge, but because all people care about is his “toughness” vs. his “skill” so that’s what gets put up on youtube.

  • GoofyGoon69

    I am not sure what stats suggest the NHL is safer today. Players are bigger, stronger, faster, and highly trained. The physics behind collisions are considerably more intense. Also, with the salary cap, players who would not typically be in the NHL are now patrolling most 4th lines and creating havoc as they can’t keep up with the pace of play. The end result is more knees, elbows, and hitting from behind as players are a split second late. The other issue is highlighted in the comments above – players turning their backs prior to getting hit. I suspect that the stats would show quite the opposite – the number of man games lost to injury per year is higher today than it ever has been.

  • Johnnydapunk

    It seems the NHL is slowly adopting rules that the IIHF has used for quite a while, safety is indeed improving as the ratio of hits to injuries from hits seem relatively low, I don’t have any hard evidence of that though.

    I think sport in general is becoming safer with increased information available and advances in technology to protect athletes which is again just an evolution.

    It can still improve, but it is going in the right direction at least.

    Though on a kind of related note, aren’t the corners where the glass ends at the benches usually padded?? I ask as when Petry was injured, his head hit the corner where the glass ends and I always though they used to or are normally padded, has that changed or ?

  • acg5151

    At least the Oilers will never get a suspension this year, they hit less the a girls ringette team.

    I generally miss the media scrums. Is anyone questioning Eakins on his team being Pillsbury dough boy soft and never taking exception to anything.

  • acg5151

    So how is Clarkson doing over in TO? It’s a good thing we traded Yak for him, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

    Bigger isn’t always better I guess. Now, trading a plateau’ed Sam Gagner for him I could stomach a little better. But Lil OV? No way Jose.

    I’d trade Gags for:

    Errhoff or
    Clarkson or
    Del Zotto

    • GoofyGoon69

      Clarkson? no thanks, that contract is too ugly. I’m happy he didn’t sign with us.

      Del Zotto? This one wouldn’t be bad but I imagine Rangers doesn’t need another center.

      Ehrhoff? The term is bad but he’s a proven player and he’s a vet who could help the team in ALL situations. And it’s only 4mil not 6 mil

      • S cottV

        Clarkson looks great on the leafs. lol
        he is a glorified Boyd Gordon , who i take 8 times out of 10.

        How’s that contract treating you leafs ?

        Can you imagine if we ever ended up signing , Heatley – Vaneck and Clarkson ? OMG…I am so glad none of those turned out.

        Yes- i know we could never have signed all three , just imagine.

        Plus we would have a buck 05 left for cap space.

        • pkam

          If we have signed Vanek, we could have this year 2nd overall pick, a 2nd rounder in 2015, and Matt Moulson who probably will get us at least a 2nd rounder at trade deadline.

          I haven’t seen a team draft 1st and 2nd overall in the same draft but looks like it is happening to Buffalo this year thanks to Garth Snow.

  • acg5151

    I remember Matt Carkner attacking Brian Boyle in a similar fashion to Thornton and Orpik a couple years back, but I don’t remember it being a huge suspension and I don’t recall whether Brian Boyle got injured by it.

  • Phuryous George

    Gregor just wondering if there are any Willis like numbers or stats to back up the claim that the league is safer. I mean, you hear player like Jagr comment on dirty hits all the time with quotes like, “that’s nothing, you should have seen it back in the day.” But then the data for things like concussions was not as solid as now. So is your opinion based on a felling after spending so much time in the league, or do you have any hard data?

    As for saying news outlets shouldn’t makes such a big deal out of hits like this. Ha! if these are the only types of stories the media made a big deal out of, everyone watching hockey would be in great shape. The media blows everything out of proportion, every rumour, every mis translation, and especially every violent act. I mean, just go watch trade deadline coverage and tell me the media isn’t making a bigger deal out of things than it needs to be.

    Having said that, as fans, we eat it up. Just look at last year’s TSN play of the year hockey pole, or maybe it was best player under 30 or something. Regardless, Eberle and Hall ended up in the final. I mean, doesn’t that go to show how invested fans can be over something completely trivial? If you still live in Edmonton, look out the window and you’ll see why we make such a big deal out of these types of stories: What else is there to do?

    • Jason Gregor

      They didn’t track concussions when Jagr was young so virtually impossible to get data on that.

      Since rule 48 has come in, there has been fewer head shots. Players I talk with feel guys are more aware of not targeting the head.

      The issue with concussion data is that many can occur without a direct head shot. Some can occur from repeat small blows, others can be from a hard, clean hit to the shoulder that jars the neck.

      Play of the Year was a positive thing though…I don’t have an issue with those things, I just get sick of every hit being analyzed to death. Fast game means the occasional borderline hit. That will never change. IMO.

  • 27Ginge

    Gregor I could not agree more. The saddest part of this whole situation was the fact that TSN had a picture of Orpik in a neck brace on the front page of their website for three days in a row. One of the most intelligent level headed articles I have read on here in a long time.

    • S cottV

      I agree with you 100%. When I first moved up into contact hockey (pee wee back then) I went to a camp to learn how to hit safely. The first rule was always to protect yourself. Never turn your back. Never skate 4 feet from the boards. Always keep your head up, and on a swivel. These simple rules helped me avoid any major concussions throughout my hockey career.

      Somewhere along the line, players seem to have forgotten that, and the number of times that I see players put themselves into dangerous situations is appalling. Personally, I don’t care whether the other guy gets a penalty or not. It is not worth getting injured in order to gain a power play.

    • S cottV

      I agree with you as well. Nuge turned on purpose to draw a penalty and may have even embellished it. Dont think a penalty should have been called, or maybe the unsportsmanlike rule could be expanded to cover off guys who turn at the last second like this – so – both go.

      No doubt that turning at the last second, has become an offensive tactic and its scary, because (touch wood it dont happen) someone is gonna get paralyzed. It would be an awful awful prime time sight, that the NHL should avoid as much as possible.

      I agree JG – its starting to get better as you can really see guys making cautionary decisions, that you did not see before.

      That being said, it is still a wonderful but very scary game, played at NHL power / speed levels and the NHL needs to keep moving forward to make it safer.

      If real bad stuff gets out of hand or the concussion issue as evidenced by NFL / NHL legal actions, keeps going the wrong way, the cost of this stuff and insurance premiums to insure the players – is going to force big change.

      • GoofyGoon69

        Wow, can’t beleive that he would of done that on purpose to draw a penalty, that’s foolishness. Even if he was trying to be slippery its foolishness, a year ending injury could happen.These guys have to learn to protect themselves at all times. What good is a 5 game suspension when you are sitting out 10 weeks?

    • Hemmercules

      I think Nuge knew what he was doing there. He either draws a penalty or has the upper hand on winning the battle in the corner. Dangerous play though turning your back to a defender in a puck race. Partially his fault for sure but the guy that gets his face plastered into the glass usually doesn’t get the penalty. Faulk could have played the puck instead of putting a forearm into Nuge’s back and that PP never happens.

      • acg5151

        If he knows what he was doing in drawing the penalty then he is not very bright. What happens if he can’t get up? Sure Faulk gets 5 game suspension, but Nuge is out 6-8 weeks with a concussion. Eakins has to take a day and show all our skitterbugs how to protect themselves in the corner. Don’t turn your back at the last second!