Thursday, January 28, 2010

Head shot solution

I was listening to a radio show when one of the commentators said that hockey is pretty much the same as it used to be and the focus on all the head shots is simply because so many more games at all levels are televised and there are so many more media outlets to talk about and debate the hits, than in years past. Despite that being a ridiculously long run on sentence, I can’t disagree more with the contention.

While it is true there is far more attention paid because there is far more coverage and access through hi-lite shows and youtube, the number and type of hits is infinitely greater than it used to be.

Yes there have always been head shots and dangerous plays in the game but the number is far higher now for a number of reasons. There are the obvious ones. The average size and speed of the players is greater. New equipment causes as much damage as it protects. The wide range of the size of players. There was a time when very few small players got to the highest levels and very few of the biggest players made it because they were too slow and uncoordinated. Now at the NHL and CHL levels we have players who range from 5’6” and 160lbs to 6’9” and 265lbs.

The biggest single difference is attitude and respect. Players do not have the same respect level for each other as they used to have. There is no shame now in being thought of as a dirty or dangerous player. Players now do not contemplate the down side of being thought of by their peers as a player without honor.

The instigator rule also plays a part in all of this. The number of head shots and the supplementary discipline which results from those hits shows us quite clearly that players have not been penalized sufficiently to change their behavior towards each other. Since supplementary discipline is having next to no affect it conjures up the old argument about the instigator rule. While certainly not perfect and those plays did occur before the instigator rule, the frequency was much lower. Players thought about the on ice repercussions of their actions. If you leveled one of those hits, you knew someone would be visiting you on the ice to force you to physically answer for your behavior. That fear had a greater impact on behavior than supplementary discipline has so far.

We will never see the instigator rule rescinded so supplementary discipline must be amped up to change on ice behavior. The NHLPA must also institute some sort of peer based supplementary discipline. A player’s greatest threat to his career is from another player. A player based disciplinary board is completely germane here since over 70% of NHL players believe it is a front burner issue in the NHL. If the players want a solution they have to be a part of it.

See you at the rink.

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