ClutterPuck – Headhunting in the National Hockey League?

There seems to be a lot of problems with hits to the head in the NHL this season! Is there a reason for this? Are players legitimately trying to hurt other players? Is the NHL doing a bad job controlling the players? Are the rules causing more head injuries?

Nineteen players including Sidney Crosby, the best player in the league, are currently listed as out because of concussions. This does not include some players who are listed with “upper body” injuries that might turn out to be concussions. Not all of these are from an illegal* hit to the head as some are caused by fights and others are caused by accident (hit by the puck, accidental collisions, hit the boards/glass after the initial hit, etc…) The NHL talked about putting in a rule against blindside hits and hits where the head is targeted near the end of last season, during the GM meetings in March. The result was Rule 48, which was instituted into the rule book during the offseason, so at least they are trying to get them out of the game. Unfortunately, they seemed to have risen this season. Maybe the players haven’t adapted yet since they’ve played a certain way for their whole careers but the rule hasn’t stopped the frequency of these big hits. It might’ve actually increased the problem. Some players may have a false sense of security and don’t look for or prepare for hits as well as they used to because of the rule. Its like believing theft won’t happen because its against the law. You could live in the nicest neighborhood in the world but that doesn’t mean you’re going to leave your doors open at all hours. You still have to protect yourself from it.

*A legal hit is defined as any hit to the head or body that did not constitute an on-ice penalty and/or supplemental discipline.

There’s a lack of respect in the NHL right now. Players are making plays that are on the borderline of intent to injure. Physical play is a big part of the game and throwing a big hit can be a momentum-turner for your team but the players have to know the difference between a clean hit and a dirty hit. Cal Clutterbuck is known for being a very physical player as he’s led the league in hits for the last two seasons and is currently leading this season. He makes clean hits and isn’t dirty at all. I’m sure there will be some disagreement over that statement but if you think Cal’s a dirty player, you need to look closer at the way he plays and the way he throws a hit. Cal was recently the recipient of a dirty hit to the head in a game against the New York Islanders after getting a checking from behind penalty. If you watch the hit from a different angle, you can see that Cal pulled up when he noticed the player was in a vulnerable position. He then gets blindsided with a hit up high by Trevor Gillies, his head hits the plexiglass from the momentum of the hit and Gillies’ left glove hits him in the face. Trevor Gillies had just finished a 9-game suspension for a despicable play he made in a game against Pittsburgh. It took a whopping 211 seconds of ice time for him to make a similar stupid play. I understand that Gillies’ role is to play physical and stick up for his teammates, to be a goon if you will. Most teams have a “Goon” on their team, but they are there to try to keep the other team from throwing dirty hits, not to throw dirty hits themselves. This is a dirty hit any way you look at it. Its dirty because Clutterbuck never had the puck and Mr. Gillies didn’t care. He hit him anyways and its one of those borderline intent to injure hits that shouldn’t be tolerated. I don’t care what Garth Snow says about Trevor Gillies’ off-ice activities and how good a teammate he is. I’m sure his left glove “accidentally followed through and made contact to the head.” as Darth, I mean Garth, says. He deserved a longer suspension than 10 games if the NHL wants these kinds of hits to stop happening. Maybe they should discipline the coach and the team as well as suspending the player doesn’t seem to change the way they play. The Islanders don’t really lose much if Trevor Gillies isn’t able to play for them.

The NHL had a chance to send a message by giving a bigger suspension for this type of play and player and they didn’t do it. I would put an immediate 10 game suspension for anything deemed “intent to injure” and then add on more games for severity. It might be difficult to tell when its “intent to injure” but you can try to eliminate things like 2-handed slashes and leaving the ice to throw a hit. If you’ve watched hockey for a long time, these are pretty easy to identify. The National Hockey League and the NHLPA need to look at this and find more ways to get these types of hits and this kind of play out of the game.

It looks like they are attempting to do that in the next 3 days of GM Meetings in Florida.

I’d love to know what you think about these hits and about Cal Clutterbuck or anything else in hockey. Let us know in the comments.

Robb Dahlen

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4 thoughts on “ClutterPuck – Headhunting in the National Hockey League?

  1. Derek

    I totally agree Robb!

    If you look at other physical players or “goons” around the league they aren’t out there to injure other players. They are out there to fight other “goons.” If you look at Boogaard for example, he isn’t a skilled player by any means, but he will stick up for his teammates. The best part of Boogaards game is his ability to draw penalties.

  2. Robb

    Boogaard is a presence on the ice and most teams don’t have anyone that wants to mess with him which is why he is out there. He isn’t a great hockey player but he does his job very well. I’m not sure the Wild currently have a guy like that. Staubitz is alright and he’s grown on me as the season has gone on but I’m not sure he’s a great fighter or if anyone cares if he’s out there. Nobody is afraid of him at all. I really miss John Scott as that type of player and he was ok as a defenseman. He would just destroy guys in fights!! I miss that!

  3. Swedish

    There’s no room for hits to the head in the NFL, NHL, or whatever sport you may play. The problem within’ hockey is the speed at which the players are traveling when they deliver these hits. I don’t think the game has necessarily changed that much as far as hits go, but it’s the size and raw athletic ability of the players now days. Yes you can tell a player no hits from behind, no hitting to the head, etc… but if that’s something they’ve been doing they’re whole life then it’s tough to change that behavior. I think they way you’re going to curb all the head injuries in the nhl is with a combination of things. 1) Better helmets, hockey helmets suck, you look at a football helmet compared to a hockey helmet and it’s a night and day difference. 2) shoulder and elbow pads; soften up the pads, most of the pads today are made of hard plastic plates, with good reason, however on the outside of those plates there is not much protecting the other player from injury. Maybe an idea is to have some sort of regulation on the amount of padding and hardness of shoulder and elbow pads. 3) Padding along the boards, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players go into the boards head first after getting their legs taken out from underneath them. the boards are extremely hard and there’s no give whatsoever. Would it affect the game so much to put a layer of padding on the outside of the boards? I don’t think so.
    Unless you outlaw hitting all together in the NHL and make it into girls rules, head hunting is going to happen, is it cheap and destructive, yes, but it is inevitable. How you prevent the injuries is with technology and research. Not with fines and suspensions

  4. admin

    Speed is the biggest reason these hits are happening but its not the only reason. I still go back to respect for the game and the players. Tuesday night, Dany Heatley throws an elbow at Steve Ott’s head!! This is just a selfish and stupid play and there’s no excuse for it, especially with 4 minutes or so left in the 3rd period with his team up 4-3. SJ ended up winning the game 6-3 with 2 empty net goals but it could’ve went the other way. Heatley received a 2-game suspension for this hit! How does that affect SJ’s team for those games in the tight Western Conference? Maybe San Jose is fine without him but he’s a pretty big part of that team so who knows. They are only up 3 points in their division so it could easily affect their position in the playoffs.
    I disagree on the helmets being the problem. The manufacturers are doing everything to make the helmets as protective as possible. Concussions happen because the human brain isn’t supposed to take that kind of a hit. Helmets are for protection! They don’t make you invincible! You can’t compare a football helmet to a hockey helmet. They’re completely different and are made for a different purpose. Football players lead with their heads to make a tackle and a football helmet completely covers the player’s head. A hockey player gets hit in the head from a check and from the puck or a stick or possibly a fist! The NHL has already started to look at the equipment to see what they can do about that. They are also changing the glass so its all plexi-glass (instead of the seamless glass) and putting some new pads on the stanchions around the benches.
    Yes, players have been playing the same way all their lives but they have to learn to adapt just like they had to learn how to adapt to each level of play to get to the NHL. It goes both ways too. Players have to be aware of where they are on the ice and “keep their head on a swivel” and also be aware of a player in a vulnerable position and not try to light ’em up as hard as that is to do.
    The fines and suspensions are deterrents and if a player keeps getting penalized for illegal hits, he’s going to either change the way he plays or not play hockey. If Trevor Gillies keeps hitting guys in the head and playing like he does, he will keep getting suspended longer each time. You don’t think that will change the way he plays?

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