NHL Injuries: 4 Ways to Reduce 'Preventable' Injuries Across the NHL
In the NHL, just like in real life, injuries occur.
The goal of every player, team official and league official should be to minimize these injuries.
Obviously, some of these injuries (pulled groins and other muscle strains) are not entirely preventable, but these make up just a fraction of the injuries sustained in today's game.
The majority of injuries in today's NHL are "preventable" injuries. Preventable injuries are those that could be almost eliminated with minor tweaks in the rules or changes in the layout of the rink.
Here are four ways to get rid of some of the NHL's preventable injuries.
1. Find a Way to Put More "Give" in the End Boards
Nothing changes the momentum of a game like a big body check.
While these hits usually involve the boards in some capacity, the end boards in a hockey rink represent one of the biggest threats to player safety in today's NHL.
Because of the increased speed of the game, plays are all about odd-man, end-to-end rushes toward each goal.
Sometimes, as can be seen above in the Malkin injury video, this results in the defenseman finding a forward in a vulnerable spot while trying to keep the forward with the puck to the outside of the net.
As can be seen in the video, Malkin not only crashes into the end boards, but he gets his back whip-lashed on the bottom of the boards, resulting in what NHL.com is (not surprisingly) calling concussion-like symptoms.
So why not make these end boards have more give to them?
If it would save literally thousands of NHL "man games" over the next decade—which it will if changes are implemented—it would seem like the logical way to go.
2. Put in a "Stop Line" to Divert Traffic Going to the Net on Odd-Man Rushes
Goaltenders get injured all the time, but in-game injuries that occur are not always their fault.
More likely, it is due to a player crashing into them when they're not expecting it.
Take the Craig Anderson injury, for example.
If there had been a "stop line" of sorts—say, another crease that offensive players had to stop at on odd-man rushes or else they'd get a penalty for "attempting to injure" if they make contact with a goalie—there would likely be a reduction in goalie injuries.
Recently, goaltender interference was addressed by the NHL's Department of Player Safety.
Unfortunately, all of the references used by the Department of Player Safety showed plays where the interference was as a result of a player driving to the net while in possession on the puck.
The plays that could result in the most injury to a goaltender are those where the goaltender does not see a collision coming.
They are plays like the Kreider-on-Anderson collision, where the attacking player does not have the puck and the puck is not coming his direction.
These are the kinds of plays to which the "stop line" is meant to apply.
The fundamental problem is the fact that players are allowed to drive the net for the sake of getting a stick on the puck. This results in a higher number of collisions that wouldn't otherwise be happening if a player had to attempt to stop before reaching a goaltender.
3. Hybrid Icing
Hybrid icing has been a hot-button issue for some time now.
Putting a "Ringette line" on the ice (via Nick Cotsonika of Puck Daddy) seems to be the most practical alternative to the current icing set up.
This Ringette line (shown here via RingetteAsk.com) could be moved from the top of the faceoff circle to the bottom of the faceoff circle to improve competition for pucks.
Recently, the NHL updated the "boarding" penalty (Rule 41.1 in the NHL rulebook) to include "unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious icing...play which results in contact with the boards is 'boarding' and must be penalized as such."
Similarly to the goaltender interference penalty discussion, this addition to the boarding rule does not fully encompass the scope of what is actually causing the injury.
Injuries on icing are usually caused by simultaneous contact by both players, resulting in one of the players hitting the boards, causing an injury.
If the hybrid icing rules were to apply, there would be more chances for the individual players to avoid injury, but more importantly, they would not be wedged into the boards at an awkward angle while pursuing the puck.
4. Longer Suspensions Send Messages to the Rest of the Players in the NHL
When rules are put in place, they must be enforced.
This cannot be more true in the NHL than in the case of player safety.
Players must be able to go about their business on the ice without fear that they will be injured, "cheap-shotted" or blindsided without at least being warned of the potential danger that they put themselves in.
While the Department of Player Safety would like to contest that it takes all factors into consideration when discussing a possible player suspension, the simple fact of the matter is that suspending an individual for one game or two games only sends a message to the player.
If a rule is to be truly accepted league-wide and not just circumvented, it has to be enforced strictly.
If this means longer suspensions for players throughout the league to take notice that the NHL is serious about stamping out a certain activity, then so be it.
The one-game and two-game suspensions are not going to do anything in the long run if players are only forfeiting a game or two along with a handful of cash.
Twenty-five games does seem a bit excessive for a suspension, but the range of five to seven games for suspensions should certainly not be out of the discussion.
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