Okay, enough is enough.
For one thing, the NHL needs to develop some consistency in dealing with the very item they claim they want to eliminate. More and more NHL names are ending up on the casualty list due to contact with the head. Names like Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, and Paul Kariya (to name but a few) have either had extended layoffs due to concussions or had their careers ended by reckless shots to the head.
But the question is…does the punishment fit the crime?
David Steckel…nothing happened when he targeted Crosby’s head in the Winter Classic. Sorry, Washington fans and Crosby haters, there is no way that hit wasn’t intentional. You can spin it in any way you want…he knew what he was doing. Now Crosby sits at home, waiting for the clearance to even begin physical training…and the hit took place in January. Hedman’s hit notwithstanding, we all know it was the Steckel hit that resulted in the injury…even if some won’t admit it.
Paul Kariya sits on the sidelines, his career pretty much over, although the official word is a year long sabbatical. Let’s not fool anyone…at his age, and with his injury…his career is all but officially over.
Marc Savard is missing his chance to play for the Stanley Cup due to the vicious blindside at the hands of Matt Cooke. Yes, Matt Hunwick’s hit effectively shut him down, but it was the Cooke hit that sent him to the sidelines in the first place! And we don’t even need to mention the Horton incident.
Eric Lindros and his little brother Brett both had their careers ended due to headshots. The elder Lindros tried to come back, but after the string of concussions in his career, he was a shell of a his former self.
There is no easy answer. Taking out hitting from the game isn’t the answer. The Horton hit was a hit that happens hundreds of times throughout the NHL season (and in other hockey leagues as well). Yes, the hit was late. But lest we forget, Scott Stevens laid out hundreds of thunderous hits in his career similar to the Rome hit, and he’s in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps the NHL should make mouthguards mandatory. It has been proven that wearing a mouthguard can reduce the risk of concussions. One also has to wonder how many concussions went undetected throughout the NHL before high profile names started going down due to the injury.
One thing the NHL should look at is removing the instigator rule…if Player X wants to target Player Y’s head and knocks him silly…Player X better watch out for Player Z coming to clean his clock. Wayne Gretzky spent most of his career with a (let’s be honest) goon protecting him, and you could count the cheap shots he took on one hand. Once he went to a city with no big name enforcer, he started getting hit. Maybe players like Matt Cooke would think twice about running someone through the boards if they knew someone much bigger than him was coming to show him some respect.
Which brings me to my final point. Usually it is some fringe player committing the crime. But what if the suspension would be served by someone randomly picked from the roster. Would Rome have been so quick to deliver that late hit if he knew there was a possibility that a Sedin or even a Luongo would serve the consequences for his actions? Make the suspensions have some bite. Most cheap shots are pre-mediated…make a star pay the consequences instead, and we’ll see how many goons stay employed. If the NHL is serious about reducing the headshots and cheap shots, they should seriously consider this.