Skip to content

A few thoughts on making all head shots illegal

May 4, 2012, 2:21 PM EDT

Crosby Getty Images

Earlier today we passed along the opinion of concussion and brain injury expert Dr. Charles Tator, who believes it’s time for all contact with the head to be taken out of hockey.

A zero-tolerance approach to head contact has also been promoted by players like Sidney Crosby, who said in September, “If a guy’s got to be responsible with his stick, why shouldn’t he be responsible with the rest of his body when he’s going to hit someone?”

Others have argued that if the NFL can have a zero-tolerance approach to helmet contact in certain situations, the NHL can too.

But are those comparisons really appropriate?

First off, ensuring your stick doesn’t come up and make contact with a player’s head is a lot easier than ensuring your shoulder doesn’t. The blade of a stick spends most of the time on the ice. The shoulder doesn’t. Zdeno Chara can be expected to keep his stick far away from an opponent’s head when making a body check. Ditto for his hands, arms and elbows. Not so much for his shoulders.

As for the NFL comparison, a football tackle is considerably different than a hockey check. In football, the pass rusher is taught to wrap up the quarterback around the legs or lower torso and take him down. In hockey, that’s called holding.

Not to mention, a hockey player making a defensive play needs to stay on his feet. A football tackle almost always results in the defensive player going to the ground.

And let’s not pretend all head contact is illegal in football, because it’s not.


Look, chances are we’ll get to the point where all head shots are illegal and tall players like Chara will just have to adapt. If a few unjust minor penalties get called, so be it. It’s not a huge price to pay if it improves player safety.

Hockey Canada already takes a zero-tolerance approach.

Just thought I’d raise a few points to consider.

  1. couturierfellatesguys - May 4, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    Whatever soup can wants, soup can gets. God bless the franchise

    • danphipps01 - May 4, 2012 at 6:43 PM

      Warning: offer does not apply to beating the Phildelphia Flyers. Gary Bettman is only willing to grant so many favours.

  2. dmacirish - May 4, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    crazy thought here… head shots are already illegal, aren’t they? or is this article about making them illegal as in being charged with assault? i mean it seems as though i have seen a bunch of penalties called – throughout the years – on someone purposefully hitting the head of an opposing player through the course of a check.
    second thought would be how illegal is illegal? with the high sticking comparison there is a 2 minute penalty – or 4 if blood. right now head shots are getting guys suspended, so wouldn’t following the high sticking analogy diminish the nature of a penalty for hitting someone in the head which could be a 5 minute major, fine of $2,500, and a game suspension? tell the player’s association to raise the maximum fine allowed to $25,000 instead of nickels – money talks.

    • mickeyb21 - May 4, 2012 at 3:37 PM

      Nope, not all head shots are illegal. Just look at a lot of Kronwall hits. The player has his head down and the hitter hits the other guy in his head along with the rest of the body. Other cases that are legal are if you hit a player and your upward momentum carries you up into the other player’s head. As long as you don’t jump, completely legal. I have seen in a few games guys throwing their arms out when another player is going to check them and that arm hits the oncoming player in the head. Some of those plays have gotten 2 min. for elbowing but I don’t think I have seen suspensions from them.

      • dmacirish - May 4, 2012 at 4:59 PM

        in those extenuating circumstances which you speak of where the head becomes a secondary point of contact or a player is protecting themself for an oncoming hit, how could you 1) quantify a penalty for the player? would it be based on the referee’s opinion – as it is now (he says in a low voice) 2) provide a reasonable expectation for a player to be in control of a person he is going to hit or in control of all body parts during the movements immediately after being hit.

        the reason Kronwall – who absolutely destroyed Voracek during one of the Flyers games – was not penalized is because he hit his body and the reaction caused Voracek’s head to hit Kronwall and the ice. i dont see a reason to penalize someone for that hit.

  3. ray2013 - May 4, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    The NHL is not going to move immediately to ban all headshots.

    But one thing they can ban is the intentional elbow to the head/face, aka the “chicken-wing” elbow. I can’t think of any hockey reason why a player would hit an opposing player with an elbow raised in such a fashion to hit them in the head/face. At a time when players move faster than ever and when technology can make an elbow pad a weapon, the NHL could ban this type of headshot immediately.

    All the league would need to do to educate the players on a chicken-wing elbow is to show them the Keith hit on Sedin.

    • ray2013 - May 4, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      And by banning the intentional elbow to the head/face, I mean an automatic fine and suspension, with increasing levels of fines and suspensions for repeat offenders.

  4. jobotjones - May 4, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    That hit in the 9ers Saints game was not even called for a flag…And he got knocked the hell out.

    What a poor excuse for officiating.

    • Jason Brough - May 4, 2012 at 4:36 PM

      Because it was a legal hit.

      • jobotjones - May 4, 2012 at 4:46 PM

        How is this a legal hit?

        As the picture clearly shows, he is leading with his helmet and it is the first part of his body that hits Thomas.

        That is the definition of a helmet to helmet hit.

    • Jason Brough - May 4, 2012 at 5:02 PM
      The helmet-to-helmet hit by San Francisco safety Donte Whitner that sent Saints running back Pierre Thomas to the locker room early in Saturday’s NFC playoff game was legal.

      Whitner was not penalized because the tackle was not against a defenseless player. Helmet-to-helmet hits are banned against defenseless players in eight categories, and a runner is not one of those categories. Thomas was considered a runner because he’d made a catch, turned and made a “football move” before being hit.

    • jpelle82 - May 4, 2012 at 5:40 PM

      running backs are fair game dude

  5. sheckyrimshot - May 4, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Ok lets assume the nhl bans head shots. What happens when someone gets blasted open ice with a shoulder to the chest and gets concussed when his head hits the ice? Or when someone skating full speed gets tripped up and his head meets the boards? I’m all for supplementary discipline for dirty plays but to think that “banning head shots” will remove concussions from hockey seems a bit egregious. If they want to send a message, they should get rid of this whole debacle of the weight of the suspension being tied to wether or not the play resulted in an injury and treat every dirty elbow the same way. Then if they don’t stop after losing thousands of dollars and a couple of games, they get the Raffi treatment.

  6. mehetmet - May 4, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Hey look, he reposted my comment to his earlier article!

  7. tonyromoisterrible - May 4, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    Crosby is a girl. Head shots are going to happen and people need to stop whining about it.

  8. bcisleman - May 4, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    As I said in the earlier piece, an effective system already exists in international competition. No headshots at all, no exceptions. Any headshot = automatic ejection and one game suspension…longer if facts warrant. And, as I noted earlier, Zdeno Chara plays internationally all the time and never seems to get called for headshots. Even big players can adapt if they have an incentive.

    Of course, as I also noted eariler, the NHL is unlikely to do this. Take helmets. The NFL adopted a mandatory helmet rule in 1943. The NHL waited until 1979–36 years later. And it only happened then because of the Masterton tragedy.

    Bill Masterton was a center for the Minnesota North Stars on January 13, 1968 when he was checked to the ice and fell back head first. He suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and died two days later.

    I could not find a clip of the actual incident. It’s as well because it is tough to watch. This clip tells Bill’s story:

    And, as i noted in my earlier post, it took 11 years before a mandatory helmet rule was instituted in 1979. Even then players like Bob Nystrom and Dave Semenko were grandfathered in.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. P. Kessel (1745)
  2. P. Kane (1347)
  3. S. Matthias (1205)
  4. D. Carcillo (1081)
  5. P. Datsyuk (1071)