Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals is a good player, so I hope he gets the message the NHL sent him Wednesday when he was handed a 20-game suspension – this time for a headshot on Oskar Sundqvist of the St. Louis Blues. If Wilson somehow doesn’t get the message and re-offends, the game will be better without him, which I hope would be the next step if he can’t or won’t play by the rules after he’s reinstated.
The suspension, which can be appealed, will cost Wilson $1.26 million in salary, which is unquestionably a high price to pay. It’s also unquestionably deserved. Wilson is a multiple offender, this being his fourth suspension in the last 13 months, a span of just 105 games. Wilson is the dictionary definition of a repeat offender, just as Raffi Torres was – a player who wouldn’t or couldn’t alter his game as the NHL rulebook changed.
The DOPS video about the Wilson decision is here. The NHL’s explanation of Rule 48.1, which outlines illegal hits to the head, is here. The NHL, which still gets a lot of things wrong in my opinion, finally has it right when it comes to direct hits to the head. That’s something, knowing what we know about concussions and brain injuries, that has no place in the game. Is there anybody out there who actually disagrees with that premise?
Apparently there still is, despite the considerable body of evidence about the long-term damage attributed to concussions and head trauma. They are, thankfully, in the vast minority. They are the Keep Your Head Up Club. They fancy themselves fans of old school hockey, even if many of them aren’t old enough to really be old school at all. It sounds cool. It sounds tough. “Hey, man, if you’ve got your head down, you deserve whatever you get.” It is, of course, a load of Neanderthal bullshit, given what we know now and the human carnage we’ve seen.
Is it a good idea to keep your head up out on the ice and to be as aware as possible of what’s going on around you and, given predatory hitters like Wilson, who is around you? Yes it is. That’s just smart hockey. Look out for yourself. That doesn’t translate, however, to deserving whatever you get if you don’t.
Should a person crossing the street look both ways and make sure they know what’s happening around them? Of course they should. It’s common sense. We teach our children that, don’t we? It’s amazing, though, how often I see people step off the curb and into a crosswalk without even breaking stride, their eyes fixed on their phone. That doesn’t mean I get to run them down.
As for the KYHUC and the old school mentality that’s still out there, I’ll defer to TSN’s Ray Ferraro, who isn’t a poser or a wanna-be when it comes to being old school. Ferraro played in the NHL from 1984 to 2002 as a talented, smallish player. I watched him play from the time he was in the WHL in 1982. He saw the game evolve as a player and he offers his insights now as commentator.
Never. Obviously a good idea to keep head up but It isn’t against the rules to skate with your head down. It is against the rules to hit someone in the head. https://t.co/C3QlGYW9u2
— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) October 3, 2018
THE WAY I SEE IT
I’m not objective when it comes to hits to the head because I’m living now with the effects of multiple concussions that drastically impact my life today. I’ve written about that before, so there’s no need to go into it again. What I do know, and what is obvious for all to see, is we have enough information to understand multiple blows to the head are a bad thing.
Hits to the head will happen in the course of a game as fast and as violent as hockey. We will never eliminate all headshots unless we take hitting out of the game. Nobody wants that. The physicality of the game is part of what makes hockey great. That said, the NHL can’t allow hits like Wilson made on Sundqvist. Want to light a guy up when he’s got his head down cutting through the middle? Go ahead. Just don’t hit him in the head.
Any argument that eliminating headshots eliminates physicality is weak. Rule 48.1 doesn’t take hitting out of the game. It takes direct hits to the head out of the game. Big difference. If you’re still in the KYHUC, maybe contemplate the possibility that paying for a ticket and your entertainment – the bloodlust that has fans high-fiving when Sundqvist or Paul Kariya or Eric Lindros or anybody else is unconscious and blowing snot bubbles out on the ice – doesn’t trump player safety. We know too much to go back to playing the game that way.