Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We Know Better

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.

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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.


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.

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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.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Soccer Steve

    These suspensions should be the games given + however long the other guy is out. The pitifully small fines do nothing and the lost salary doesn’t do much more.

      • Señor Frijoles

        $1.2M sounds like a lot of money (and it is) but when you make as much as Wilson does, it doesn’t *really* impact his life. He’ll still have $3.6M this year to buy groceries and pay his rent. If you make $80000/yr and have to forfeit 1/4 of it as a penalty for something, you’ve got big problems – I think Tom will hardly feel a ripple.

    • The problem with this is that injuries are not always proportionate to how dangerous the hit was. You can have a hit with just a small amount of head contact that was probably accidental – worthy of a penalty or a short suspension – that because of the way the guy fell and hit the ice, or just the angle on the hit, ends a player’s career. You can also have an incredibly predatory, dangerous direct shot to the head that results in no injury at all.

      $1.2 million is a lot of money. The threat of being suspended for a whole season and losing $5 million + is significant. Hopefully Wilson gets the message, and hopefully the NHL is consistent and throws out similarly stiff penalties to other predators.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      I agree the amount the NHL fines players at times is a joke. But your totally wrong on the lost salary part IMO. 1.26 million is what Tom Wilson is forfeiting for that hit in a meaningless pre season game. If I’m him I’m doing everything in my power to eliminate those hits from my game. Giving up that kind of money on a bonehead play like that would be the last thing you want to do.

    • Serious Gord

      That’s silly. Take such a penalty to its logical conclusion and a guy with a hellacious illegal hit that doesn’t injure the victim would get no penalty while a borderline one that does cause a player a long term injury (maybe due to it being compounded by a previous injury) could be suspended for their entire career.

  • bwar

    The preseason suspension that really rubs me the wrong way was Max Domi. Targeted, intent to injure, defenseless target and Domi gets a slap on the wrist. The whole incident had me thinking of the Todd Bertuzzi sucker punching Steve Moore. While the Domi punch isn’t quite as horrific, I can’t help but put the two events in the same category. For Domi to not get suspended for any regular season games is a joke.

    • Ol_OneNut

      How was Ekblad defenseless? He didn’t even try to defend himself, he was looking around for the ref to come and save him. Also he’s got a foot and 40 pounds on Domi

      • Rock11

        I think you answered your own question. He was looking around. As in not at Domi. As in Domi saw that the player wasn’t looking at him and had no way to defend himself and chose to smash his fist into the guys face. Gutless chickens**t play.

  • Oiler Al

    If a million bucks can’t get the message into this cement head, nothing will. Its too bad because Wilson can be a decent hockey player.Unlike Peluso [Calgary], the other nite in an preseason game vs Oilers, the loogan was chasing and taunting players for a tilt all night long.Guess he didn’t get the memo the game is changing.Didnt make the starting line up I, see…… what 4 goals in 10 years and no dance partners will do it.

  • I actually expected him to get around 10 games and was shocked when I saw 20. That said, if the NHL is actually serious about getting rid of headshots then they have to hit guys in the wallet where it really hurts.

  • GriffCity

    If a player cuts to the middle, takes a shot, leaving himself wide open and completely exposed with his head being the most forward part of his body, how is one supposed to make contact with the shoulder?

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      lol, Wilson is a pro. He had PLENTY of time to hit or not hit or anything. He chose to skate to where the head was and did what Wilson has done all his career, be Sneaky Dirty. All he had to do was hit him in the side/shoulder, cartwheeling him, and it would have been an ESPN highlight for a week. Just because a guy has his head down doesn’t mean that it’s the only point that these pros hit. Wilson is amazingly quick, he can hit any part of you that he wants.

    • Bekind

      Showing my age, but the main reason for hitting is to separate the player from the puck, but I will agree, has always had an element of intimidation to it. I guess a generation of sensationalizing big hits of any type, always fires up the debate though. Personally, I could not justify a hit is this case, let alone trying to defend one that seems to be done strictly to injure. Another way to look at.

  • Towers-of-dub

    why don’t teams hold their own players more accountable? Washington re-signed the guy to a long term deal, they still have to fork out the $$ even if he doesn’t see it. They’re missing a decent player for a 1/4 of the season, he counts against the cap, he’s a repeat offender who won’t get any leeway when he comes back, the rest of the league will be getting into mid-season form and he’ll be basically in training camp mode, and he’ll be so far behind everyone else, that he’ll take another run at someone and get tossed again. If you’re washington, is there point where to you tell the guy to get his sh*t together because by playing this way he’s a liability. It’s a needless hit in a preseason game that cost him $1.2 million and a quarter of the season. It’s just totally thoughtless

  • Reg Dunlop

    20 games is plenty. Maybe the league should retroactively suspend Scott Stevens for life. THAT would really hammer home the danger of contact in what is supposed to be a collision sport

  • OilCan2

    I spoke to someone who saw the entire Cologne game and they felt it was not that physical yet highly entertaining. The modern game should showcase speed and skill. Next fine on Wilson should be 40 games. Double it once again after that too.

  • Spydyr

    I’m old enough to remember watching guys take viscous head shots puke then go back out and play. The old tape an aspirin to it or put a cold beer on it mentality. Now thanks to medical science we know much better. I love a big hit but there is way more to life than hockey. Protecting the players is a no brainer.

  • BlueHairedApe

    Great article. I remember a tournament game I played in back in midget and there was this kid on the other team who must have been 6′ 4″ and 250 lbs. All our skilled guys up front were taking an absolute beating from this guy and by the end of the second we were down 3 to 1. Our forwards were too scared to get within 10 feet of the boards. In the beginning of the third I was on the ice when this guy circles with the puck towards me with his head down. I’m not sure if I could have avoided the hit even if I tried but I gave him a full hip check straight into the melon. He went down and I took the puck up the ice and scored half expecting the play to be whistled down but it was a legal hit. As it turned out it took him 15 minutes to be packed off the ice and he missed the rest of the game. The hit was a turning point for our team and we ended up winning the game 4 to 3. We ended up winning the tournament and I took home the mvp. When I look at these hits which still go on in today’s game even though it’s against rules now I always think that someone probably coached the him to play like that and at one time the rest of his team praised him for it too. If they want to get it out of the game then the enforcement of these rules need to be just as strict with the younger players as well.

  • Robin has several valid points, however hockey is a contact sport with intimidation and emotions running high. Add to this referee judgement calls, tall player hitting short player, and less skilled players wanting to make a name for themselves, you got a can of worms with lots of grey areas. Trying to control all that is impossible, other than banning contact altogether.

    Is that what we want, no contact hockey?

    • Towers-of-dub

      it’s easy to see if a hit was a deliberate head shot. Anyone who saw this particular hit can see that it clearly targeted the head. Other hits might make contact with the head, but not deliberately. The player could still be penalized because of the head contact, but not suspended due to it being somewhat incidental. A less skilled player should simply learn how to play the game within the rules to the extent that his limited skills allow, which doesnt include running around giving head shots to make a name for himself.

      • ed from edmonton

        For once I tend to agree with Gordo. Although it is vogue, at least in our local media, to trash the NHL department of player safety on almost all matters like this, the system is working at some level. All collision sports, especially hockey and football knw they are trying to walk a tight rope to keep the fan appeal of the collisions vs the potential litigation from injured players.

    • jesse says yep

      The only part I agree with is when a bigger guy hits a smaller guy. The odds of hitting the head are huge when you have a guy Chara’s size taking someone like Kane into the corner. even with the elbows pressed tight to his body there is a pretty good chance of it contacting the other guys head incidentally. The need to protect players is absolute but how do they take into account size differential when considering penalties?

  • Punishment needs to fit the crime.

    If an injured player misses 20 games or whatever, the offending player should match and miss at least that many, plus no time spent with his team, and no working out or practice. Salary is taken and given to research or charity. If the injury is career ending, both players are done.

    In many cases the offending player and team benefit from an illegal hit. Daniel Sedin having his bell rung during the 2011 cup final comes to mind.

  • “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.”
    This must be one of those times where you guys write things that don’t translate to your American fanbase. If you think you won’t get run down for walking a crosswalk without checking in the states, there was a bloody mess on my morning route to work a few weeks ago that will tell you otherwise. I’m not supporting WIlson, he deserves it, but car beats person every single time and if you can’t cross the street as an adult without getting hit by a giant 2 ton object, then you should, in fact, get run down.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Can’t disagree with any of this but, and maybe this is a reach,in an article talking about senseless violence why no mention of Marchand?

    Repeat offender. Offensive behaviour on the ice. Plenty of cheap shots. And yet he gets to jump a guy on the ice for “chirping” and having fun…why again?

    • Randaman

      I am fine with Marchand this time only because it was Eller. Mouthy jerk that has a history with bad mouthing our Oilers.
      Down with Eller, stupid antics considering it was a 7-0 goal. Just asking for it if you ask me.

        • Beer_League_Ringer

          Logic bomb!!! A blindside shoulder to the head, or punches to the head for “chirping” are both predatory actions. If Eller had two-handed a Bruin player rather than just using his words (lol) I might feel different about the Marchand incident.

    • ed from edmonton

      Agree that the Marchand incident is much more discussion worthy as the Wilson thing is an open and shut case, so to speak. Both players have some level of culpability. Rubbing the oppositions nose in it is never a good idea and you are asking for trouble. But then again of a team of getting embarrassed 7-0 they deserve what they get. Marchand has a short fuse and it gets him in trouble. He, or better yet a larger but less important Bruin, should have done a Gordie Howe and just taken the number for the time being.

  • Oda Phi

    This suspension is a very positive sign from the NHL, maybe they are turning that corner, I personally never thought they would, protect there players. As much as I would like the NHL to do that, there is a part of me that loves watching Lindros get Stevens(ed)

    • ed from edmonton

      To be honest, no. If there ever was such a period if would be at least before 1933. That year Eddie Shore was suspended for 16 games for slew footing Ace Bailey and nearly killing him. The Don Cherry perpetuated myth about players being able to police themselves is truly a myth.

    • Yeah. It was a time of “enforcers” whose brains were turned to pulp and who died in their 50s after spending most of their adult lives in debilitating pain.

      Good times. Lets go back to those.

    • CMG30

      No, I only remember back to the early 80’s and the days of Semenko. I remember lots of fights, but at least half were for clean hits. Of course, a lot of it was done specifically for off-setting penalties since the Oilers were so good that they felt 4v4 gave them an even greater advantage. Not much ‘justice’ though.

  • Big Boss

    Last I checked, you’re not aloud to hit a pedestrian with your car so trying to compare crossing the street with your head down to a blind side hit in hockey is absurd. Players need to always be aware of a possible hit. When you skate with your head down, it’s pretty hard for the other player to NOT make contact with the head because it’s in a lowered position. Had he skated with his head UP, the hit would have been to the shoulder.

    • Rock11

      First of all it is allowed not aloud. Secondly if the only place you can hit a player is in the head then the how about not delivering the hit at all. We use this logic all the time when it comes to hitting a player in the back into the boards. Players simply don’t deliver the blow. I don’t see how hits to the head are any different.

  • CMG30

    Absolutely, hits to the head have to go. As we learn more and more about the effects of brain trauma, the NHL has a moral responsibility to remove these types of incidents from the game. If they fail, it jeopardizes the future of ice hockey in general. Look what’s happening to football. Many parents now refuse to allow their kids to participate due to the risks associated.

  • wendel clarks moustache

    This hit was dirty, imo marchand instigating eller tho is justified and a pop or 2 in the nose is ok when its 7-0 and you spin by the opposing bench like you scored the gwg

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      Nope… More crap from someone who has never been in a fight with a tougher person. When words become justification for violence, we devolve. Listen to yourself…. More of this “he had it coming” crap. Marchand was not “justified”.

  • Oilers4477

    Why does he have to make that hit tho is what I’m wondering? There was no point to finish that check in any way, all he to do was was skate past the player or follow him to the net to make sure he didn’t get a second chance at the puck.

  • Ol_OneNut

    Watched the replay numerous times in slow mo. Sundqvist is looking right at Wilson bearing down on him and what does he do? Brace himself for the coming hit? Stick his elbow or stick up ala Moose?
    No, he lowers his head and takes a shot on net. And then he’s creamed. And that’s Wilsons fault somehow?
    Spare me

    • You didn’t watch it close enough then — the suggestion he’s looking right at Wilson is laughable. That aside, you still don’t understand, or refuse to understand, that Wilson doesn’t get to deliver a blow to the head no matter what the other player did or didn’t do. Simple as that. You’re the guy I’m talking about.

        • 99CupsofCoffey

          Wilson could have hit him anywhere he wanted. he chose to skate in front of him and hit his head. You’re actually saying that one of the most talented hitters in the game just couldn’t do anything else but hit his head? That’s laughable. 20 games is a perfect punishment.

        • Redbird62

          Watch the replay again. In the split second before contact, Wilson rapidly straighten his legs which elevates his shoulders at least 12 inches through the hit. If Wilson just stays level, it would have been shoulder to shoulder, but instead he accelerates his body mass upward to increase the force substantially.
          This BS where the claim that the players feet only left ice due to the contact miss the fact that the hitters are effectively jumping into the hit, but get away with it if the contact is made with the other player before their feet leave the ice. I have played and watched a lot of hockey, and this hitting technique is the hallmark of those players who have doled out numerous concussion causing hits. Very good strong hits can be made while still staying level, but these players want to obliterate the opponent and that’s what makes it predatory.

          • Ol_OneNut

            I was raised to take responsibility for my actions. If I skate in the middle of the ice with my head down and I get smoked, that’s on me.
            Maybe all you bleeding hearts would be happier watching figure skating.

          • Redbird62

            That’s all you have! Labeling and gross generalizations, instead of actually addressing the arguments made. No point in any further responses then since facts, logic and reasoning don’t seem to make an impression on your simple world view.