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Enough Already: Time for NHL to Crack Down On Hits to Head

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins might still be playing if two of their top-six forwards didn’t miss time during their opening-round series against the New York Rangers because of hits to the head.

New York defenseman Ryan Lindgren knocked Rickard Rakell out of the opener and the five games that followed, while Jacob Trouba drove an elbow into Sidney Crosby’s skull during Game 5, forcing him to leave that game and sit out Game 6.

Trouba, who opened the series by going after Jake Guentzel on the first shift of Game 1, doesn’t seem to be inclined to change his modus operandi, considering that he launched himself into Carolina forward Max Domi’s head during Game 4 of the second round Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Make no mistake: Hockey is, at its best and most entertaining, a physical game.

Extremely physical.

Violent, even.

And bad stuff is going to happen when guys equipped with sticks and malice aforethought are operating at high speed in a confined area.

Bones will be broken. Shoulders will be separated. Knees will be mangled.

And, the way the game is legislated now, brains will be scrambled.

Fractures heal. Surgeries usually can repair even the most severe damage to joints.

But trauma to a brain can be forever.

Forget winning a game. Or a series. Or a Stanley Cup.

Heck, forget everything.

Including your children’s names and how to tie your shoes.

Are such cases rare in hockey? Sure, at least as far as we know.

For now, anyway.

Then again, just how many should be acceptable? How many guys who were among the finest practitioners of their craft before leaving the game and subsequently experiencing cognitive issues rooted in the blows to the head they absorbed do we consider a fair trade-off for entertaining us?

Most cases of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) reported in hockey have involved enforcers such as Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, among others. That’s no surprise, since throwing — and taking — punches, including ones to the face, was a core element in their job descriptions.

But CTE hasn’t been limited to fighters. Former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zarley Zalapski and Rick Martin, a member of Buffalo’s fabled French Connection, were diagnosed with it after their deaths.

It is, tragically, inevitable that that list will grow in coming years.

Injuries that require operations or lengthy rehabilitation periods are unfortunate; the ones that could have a profound impact on the quality of a player’s life, let alone his career, are unforgiveable.

Not only for the player who deliberately delivers a hit to an opponent’s skull, but for the league that tolerates them. That rarely deems anything but the most egregious head shots to be worthy of more than a two-minute penalty, if that.

Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall — hardly known as a raging pacifist during his playing days — made it clear recently that he is concerned about how common head shots still are in today’s game.

“As a league, we have to continue to talk and evaluate where we are with head shots,” he said. “It’s an issue that’s prevalent in sports and we need to continue to move forward and try to better our system, where we try to get them out as much as possible.”

Hextall didn’t offer a proposal for how to do that, so here’s one: Penalize every hit to the head.

Every single one.

Don’t matter of it’s accidental. Or incidental. Or anything else.

Penalize it.

And if it’s clearly delivered with intent, make it a match penalty. Then back that up with punishment from the league that’s more severe than a four-figure fine that’s “the maximum allowed by the CBA.”

That’s become a punchline, not a punishment.

Players are the league’s most valuable assets, and should be treated as such.

Oh, they’re also human beings, who shouldn’t have to risk the quality of their post-playing lives for the sake of making a living.

Obviously, a zero-tolerance policy on hits to the head will result in some players who absolutely were not looking to make contact there being sent to the penalty box.

That’s a shame, but the idea is to condition players to make a conscious effort to avoid hitting anyone above shoulder level. Always. No exceptions.

It will take time, of course, but players in hockey — and every other sport, for that matter — have proven that they can adapt to rule changes. Set the parameters for what is acceptable, and players will learn to work within them.

Is the idea of penalizing every hit that involves contact with the head radical?

Maybe.

Probably.

But so is having to put name tags on your kids so you know what to call them.

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charmaine
charmaine
1 month ago

excellent, as usual, Dave…..sadly the joke that the NHL Department of Player Safety is will do nothing……$5,000 fine = joke……what you describe as regards penalties is perfect.

dude
dude
1 month ago
Reply to  charmaine

They let goons run it instead of someone like Paul Kariya. Garage league gonna garage..

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
1 month ago

Hear! Hear!
Do we really have to look at the NFL as the guiding light of TBI and concussion prevention?

William Nichols
William Nichols
1 month ago

We did this in college about 15 years ago. It was frustrating at first, especially when our very tall defenseman was getting called, seemingly, for being too big. But as you say, players adapt. That this is still going on in the NHL is a disgrace. I don’t invest my time to watch Trouba make it look like an accident, nor to watch Sydney Crosby turtle rather than make a play. I’m voting with my eyes, and haven’t watched a moment of NHL hockey since Crosby went down in game 5. If this is the product they want to give… Read more »

William Nichols
William Nichols
1 month ago

One other change, take a page from MLB and throwing at batters. Eject the perp and coach, then add an automatic game suspension for first offense. After that, ramp up penalties and fine the organization. Draft choices might get their attention.

Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
1 month ago

Dave or Dan, Trouba has multiple questionable head shots in the playoffs this year. Last nights game is the 2nd time he has done it after his head coach made disparaging comments in his post game interviews. Should the NHL look at suspending Gallant as well as Trouba? It is very disheartening to see that he is nominated for the Jack Adams award while blatantly sending the message to his team to goon it up.

William Nichols
William Nichols
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Is there not one knight who will rid me of this troublesome priest?

Plausible deniability is fine for criminal court, but it gives the appearance of a mafia hit. That’s a bad look and why I’m not watching any more games.

The coach has to take responsibility for his players actions.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago
Reply to  Katz is Dumb

Gallant is responsible for Trouba. He has told him to do it. He is just as much goon as his dirty player.

Keith T.
Keith T.
1 month ago

Bravo You nailed it, Dave!

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago

I don’t think penalizing every hit to the head is radical at all. We don’t pick and choose which high sticking calls or which tripping calls or which interference calls are penalized, they’re all penalized (if called) regardless of what the intention of the player was… You tripped him. You hit him with a high stick. You interfered with him. You hit him in the head. Was it an “accident”… maybe… but it happened. Penalty.

talisker66
talisker66
1 month ago

That is the rule in International hockey, any hit to the head is a 2 minute penalty. Should be in the NHL too. There are lots of ‘accidental’ high sticking penalties, but they are penalties nonetheless

Jman712
Jman712
1 month ago

Right on. Everyone can still enjoy the hits and physical play without jeopardizing someone’s life. A conservative approach as far as hits to the head is a small price to pay for someone’s health and safety.

forestx5
forestx5
1 month ago

Want to eliminate hits to the head? Want to reduce hits overall and emphasize skating, passing, and shooting skills? The solutions is very simple….eliminate rink side seating, and expand the NHL rinks to international dimensions. This will add approximately 13′ feet of width to the lines, creating more open ice, while reducing scrums along the boards. Tune into an IIHL game and see the difference. If NHL rinks were Olympic size, the Broad Street Bullies would never have won a cup. Oh, and most NHL goons would have to take up mixed martial arts for a living.

Last edited 1 month ago by forestx5
Frank
Frank
1 month ago

There are suggestions in this comment section that would at least mitigate head hits. There are no doubt another half dozen not included below. And there is the rub. With so many ways to take this out of the game . . . with the NHL turning their backs on all of them . . it is clear and unquestionable validation that the NHL wants this in the game and is prepared to do absolutely nothing to bring it to a stop. OK . .. this is all a matter of time and tragic consequence . .. with the league… Read more »

Mary L
Mary L
1 month ago

This is one reason why I think Sid walks away when his contract is up.
Garbage League doesn’t deserve elite players. They sacrifice them for the sake of the Goons.

Mike
Mike
1 month ago

Someone needs to hit Trouba in his head. Since they are not being called for a penalty. The hockey commentors are trying to say Domi started to fall. Trouba could of stop. He is a dirty player. He tries to hit with his shoulder but puts his fist on his chest his elbow chicken winges out and strikes players in the head. They need to suspend him or teach him how to properly check someone

Wasnt
1 month ago

Same ole same ole but everyone would like to have that a$$hole on their team.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Not everyone. Hard pass on Marchand and Wilson too.

William
William
1 month ago

This was another spot on wonderful read Dave. I agree with all of it.

Rangers Fan Jack
Rangers Fan Jack
1 month ago

Can we stop with this crap? Penguins lost to a superior team. Please stop crying.

Res
Res
1 month ago

Superior!!!!! 😂🤣😂🤣👍

Res
Res
1 month ago

Nice! The National Headshot League will never change though.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

We’ve been talking about this subject for decades now. The league needs people with a different vision of hockey to change the mindset. Until that happens, it will be more of the same old same old.

Stephen
Stephen
1 month ago

Great article and great suggestions! I’ve also thought head shots should be
suspended for the duration of the injuried player’s absence + 1 game. Guy is out 6 games because you were reckless, so are you. You can come back the game after he does. Player never plays again? Neither do you.

Penguinfan
Penguinfan
1 month ago

Why not? I rather see players have less shots to the head. Don’t care if it’s Trouba, Wilson, or Malkin. Minor for unintentional double minor or 5min major for clearly intentional… specifically with the stick,Including after the play.

Tim
Tim
1 month ago

And when the player gets penalized, they should sit out the same number of games the injured player is having to sit out.

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