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.