As the NHL continues to dilute its talent pool by awarding major league franchises to bush league towns, the sensible person might think the league would take serious steps to protect the players who can actually play the game.
But, if we know anything about the NHL, we know it’s run by the judgment impaired. One year the crease is off-limits and the next year it’s not. Marty McSorley is banished for whacking Donald Brashear in the head with his stick, but Scott Neidermeyer gets a wrist-slap for trying to decapitate Peter Worrell. And instead of letting the tough guys maintain order on the ice – their traditional role – the league orders the linesmen to rush in like nannies on the playground to break up every little disagreement.
Fighting is not going to ruin hockey, the twaddle of the purists and the Euros notwithstanding. Let the players police themselves and, besides, the fans love it when the boys drop the gloves. Oh, those pesky fans.
Injuries, though, are destroying the NHL, and what does the league do: it appoints an Injury Analysis Panel to study ways to reduce injuries. Great.
Study ways to reduce injuries? What needs to be studied? Just look at last year’s injury reports: there were 130 reported muscle strains, 125 head and neck injuries, 98 ligament sprains, 91 contusions and bruises, and 71 fractures that resulted in missed games.
That’s right: 125 head and neck injuries.
Hey, Bettman! Here’s an idea: Make the head off limits!
That will reduce injuries by, what, 25%. Besides, one player going after another’s head clearly intends to injure him and often does. There is no legitimate reason for a player to be struck in the head during the course of play.
Concussions are the single largest category of reported injuries in the NHL, yet the league remains the only big-league sport except boxing (look at Muhammad Ali and think Eric Lindros 30 years from now) that allows players to legally torpedo the head. Today’s players are too big, too fast, their plastic shoulder and elbow pads too hard, and they have too little respect for one another to permit any hit to the head.
Even if the league doesn’t want to protect the players for the players’ sake (and it may not; the NHL remains the last bastion of player-as-chattle mentality), look at it from a business point of view and from the fans’ perspective.
Peter Forsberg. Mike Modano. Sergei Federov. Robbie DiMaio. Eric Lindros. Russ Courtnall. Pavel Demitra. These are just a handful of the league’s top stars who missed games last year because of concussions. By failing to act immediately, the league is jeopardizing investments totalling hundreds of millions of dollars.
And it is risking the fans’ goodwill as well. Who could be happy about shelling out a couple of hundreds of dollars for seats, parking, and beer, then get to watch an IHL call-up because some mutt drilled the big guy in the head last night? Oh, those pesky fans.
Study, schmudy. Outlaw hits to the head. Five minutes, plus a game misconduct. Automatic 10-game suspension. Second offense, gone for the season and playoffs. Third, done for life.
There is no downside to making such a rule, but there is also no chance Gary Bettman has the courage to do it, particularly after the league lapdogs (a.k.a., the establishment hockey press) awarded last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy to the most wretched headhunter in the game.
And if you don’t think Scott Stevens aims upstairs, link over to http//:www.newjerseydevils.com/ (skip the intro; it is beyond annoying), click to Steven’ page, and look at his four highlight film clips. In three of them, he makes a long run and aims right at the head, clearly intending not only to punish but also to injure.
Based on that evidence alone, Stevens should be banned for life.