Head Shots

Fig 1. Sidney Crosby is possibly the NHL's most prized possession, from "The Hockey News" (Pittsburgh: Associated Press, 2008)

January 10, 2011

Despite self-serving pronouncements, the NHL head office has been very apathetic over the past couple of years in its efforts to crack down on players who recklessly cause head injuries.  In fact, the only cracking that we have seen is the heads of the players who continue to be illegally targeted by these cheap shot artists.

However, it is possible that the NHL may now have wakened up to the issue because the biggest star in the NHL constellation – Sidney Crosby – has been seriously injured by an illegal hit to the head.  Although Dave Steckel was not suspended for his dirty hit on Crosby at the Winter Classic, head of officiating Colin Campbell and the NHL handed down a 6 game suspension to Calgary Flames Tom Kostopolous for his brutal shot to Brad Stuart just a few days later.

The injury to Crosby, from which he has still for recovered, has motivated the NHL to finally do the right thing and give a legitimate penalty that will deter players from committing these illegal acts in the future.

With the onslaught of dirty hits continuing, and the medical knowledge of the devastating effects of concussion increasing, the NHL seems to be finally grasping the obvious point that, in order to protect its players and its game, it needs to place severe penalties on the players carrying out these actions.

Prior to the Tom Kostopolous suspension, most of the penalties issued by the NHL were either 1 or 2 game suspensions for hits of a similar manner. The problem is that with the amount of money these guys make a couple of games is not enough of a deterrent. Moreover, being suspended for 1 or 2 games out of an entire 82 game season does not penalize the player’s team enough either as they would only lose their player for a very small portion of the season.

Protecting their players, especially star ones, should be the number one priority of the National Hockey League because obviously if these top tier players are consistently being forced out for long periods of time as a result of illegal hits, the league itself will suffer a drop in its entertainment value. With an already struggling situation in many franchises south of the border, the league cannot afford to have their star players, such as Sidney Crosby, sit out for an extended period of time.

It may be selfish thinking, but the NHL should be protecting its players for the leagues own good, not only for the good of its player’s health and longevity now and after hockey.

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