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Accepting the role of violence in hockey

Aug 20, 2011, 12:41 PM EST

Jason Pominville AP

There are plenty of people who simply don’t care about the welfare of professional athletes, but I’d like to think that most of us care – at least a little bit – about the health of NHL players. That’s why it makes sense that the league is looking into different ways to make hockey a safer sport.

Yet at some point, one must acknowledge that violence is an inherent part of the game. When a hockey player signs a contract, he’s basically making a pact to put his body on the line – it’s one of the drawbacks to the fame, glory and money that comes with playing the sport at its highest level.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Gray wrote a provocative (and quick) piece about head shots in the NHL, revolving around the fear that Sidney Crosby‘s struggles with concussions might mean that we’ve already seen the star center’s best days. Gray makes a wider point about how the league needs to investigate head injuries, but does he ask for a little too much?

But if Bettman were really brave, his league would be aggressively investigating the recent indications that shots to the head and fighting can lead to brain injuries and some forms of mental illness. But that could mean taking head shots, fighting and maybe even body contact out of the NHL. And while that might be good for players’ health, it wouldn’t be good for owners’ pocketbooks. The NHL believes violence sells. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise … unfortunately.

Honestly, I could see a future NHL in which head shots will be made illegal across the board. Maybe fighting will be removed from the game within our lifetimes (or at least our children/grancdhildren’s lives, depending on your age). But the thought of removing body contact out of the sport is as wrong as changing the NFL to a flag football league.

Perhaps there’s a gladiatorial element to some fans’ interest in the sport, but body contact is an essential element of any NHL game. Physicality makes an impact just about everywhere on the ice; it’s tough to picture defensemen trying to contain explosive forwards with stick work and positioning alone.

Sure, it’s possible to play the game in such a manner, but abolishing body contact would be an extreme measure that would remove much of the thrill and intrigue from the sport.

Now that you’ve heard my reaction to the piece, where do you stand on measures to protect players? Should the NHL make all hits to the head illegal, ban fighting or even body contact altogether, as Gray suggests? Let us know in the comments.

  1. capsrockva - Aug 20, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    I can see the head shots being banned in a few years,( which I not a fan of because of what it has done to the NFL) but then your basically turning Hockey into one of the wimp sports much like the NFL has done. The NFL is turning into a flag time game. Fighting is always gonna happen in hockey, especially if one of your teams stars suffer a bone crushing hit, the other team mates aren’t gonna stand for it. Hockey is a rough ass sport, in my opinion far more the football & hits are part of the game.

    • trbowman - Aug 20, 2011 at 3:07 PM

      You haven’t ever played football, have you?

      • capsrockva - Aug 20, 2011 at 4:21 PM

        professionally no backyard yes. Have you ever played Hockey?

      • capsrockva - Aug 20, 2011 at 5:08 PM

        what no answer for that??????????????????

      • James O'Brien - Aug 20, 2011 at 5:28 PM

        That’s perfectly fine?

  2. hanktheking - Aug 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    Banning head shots would be virtually impossible, as the majority of them are plays that happen in a split second, a la Sidney Crosby, and ultimately unavoidable. There are certain plays and players, a la Matt Cooke on Ryan McDonagh, in which guys are deliberately trying to hit other guys in the head, and for these plays, i think the penalties need to be way more severe. The fact is that these guys are trying to injure others, and it takes away the civility of the game. In a sense, fighting does the same thing. I am a life long hockey fan and wouldn’t mind seeing fighting go, just to avoid albeit rare, but serious injuries.

    When it comes to guys potentially ending other guys career’s on purpose, there should be zero tolerance for that in any sport.

    • capsrockva - Aug 20, 2011 at 4:23 PM

      I agree completely. Matt Cooke is one of the dirtiest players in the game right now. btw from puckdaddy Should NHL expand to Houston? What about Honolulu?

      • James O'Brien - Aug 20, 2011 at 4:26 PM

        Expect to see a post on that Business Journal report in the very near future.

  3. capsrockva - Aug 20, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    It just hit PHT about 2 minutes ago even though it was on puckdaddy about an hour ago

  4. capsrockva - Aug 20, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    I’ve already commented on Puckdaddy’s website

  5. sknut - Aug 20, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    It is a concern, as fans we are entertained then guys retire and they fade from our mind and can struggle with their lives due to the violence of the game. The other aspect that needs to be addressed is the players can control this, to a point. The league also needs to step in and ban the head shots. I think that most fans enjoy the physical play not the violent play, I realize that there is a fine line but smart fans can see the difference.

  6. icelovinbrotha215 - Aug 20, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    The ‘violent’ nature of the game is part of hockey. The NHL needs to do everything possible to make it safer for the players (e.g. softer shoulder and elbow pads, wider rink, etc.).

  7. stakex - Aug 21, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    First of all, the NHL will never remove contact from the game. If they did, the sport would collapse and die, and they know that. This will never happen thankfully.

    As for removing anything else that has an element of danger to it, such as fighting or headshots… the league needs to get a life. Every singl player in the NHL knows the danger of the sport when they step out on the ice, and no one is focing them to go out there and play. These players make a lot of money for the risks they take and I don’t feel bad for any of them. They chose to do it. Don’t want to risk injury? Don’t play the damn sport.

    With that said I have nothing against small things that don’t change the game. Such as going back to the old style equipment, or stronger punishment for players like Matt Cooke who repeatedly make efforts to injure other players. Those are things that could make a huge difference in safty, without changing the game at all.

  8. a2theory - Aug 22, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    There are a lot of people who are willing to say that players like Cooke should be punished for hits that appear premeditated or perpetrated with intent to injure, then turn around and say you can’t ban head hits all together. The distinction is meaningless and clearly not the point. Authority does not distinguish between acts that are not intended to have consequence and those that do. We have rules in order to force players to consider the consequence of an action and then not perform that action. To say one incident is carried out with malice and the other an accident serves no point in the conversation. Either the act is “illegal” or not, intent should not play into the argument.

    As for Hockey being a “rougher” sport. I’d argue it is more dangerous by way of opportunity to get hurt (stick injuries, skate injuries, board hits, etc.) but the argument for which sport is tougher is pointless. Both require the attribute of, at the very least, tolerating hits that have the potential to cause serious injury, however for every hockey game that has one hit to the head there 10 in a football game. And a football helmet doesn’t protect against concussions any better than a hockey helmet!

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