The NHL knows it has a problem with injuries.
When Sidney Crosby misses the better part of two years with concussion-related problems and players like Marc Savard and Chris Pronger have likely seen their careers come to an end as a result of concussion-type injuries, it has sent a strong message to the NHL.
Rule changes to prevent head shots and blindside hits have been implemented and enforced. Most players—although there are exceptions like Phoenix thug Raffi Torres and Buffalo rogue Patrick Kaleta—have gotten the message that hits that result in injuries have to come to an end.
However, hockey is played at incredible speed, and nothing is going to wipe out serious injuries entirely. Rule changes are helpful, but equipment changes all have to come into play as well.
Players who don't wear face shields face the possibility of getting blinded by the puck and suffering other serious facial damage.
Players who wear hard-cap pads may feel like they are taking steps to protect themselves, but at what price? That hard-shelled equipment may cause serious damage to opponents.
Fortunately, the NHL is now regularly studying how to make the game safer and protect its players. Many older hockey fans remember the days when most goaltenders played without masks and only the "odd" hockey player wore helmets.
But the game has evolved dramatically from the 1950s and '60s, and it will almost certainly continue to do so.
Players are bigger and stronger now, and the game is played at a much faster pace than it ever has before. Players simply need more protection in today's game.
Equipment rules need to be refined and enforced because the league's current stance on this issue is too lenient. For instance, check out how many players still have loose chinstraps on their helmets. Is it possible for the helmet to provide maximum protection if the helmet is not strapped on securely?
What about mouth guards? One of the prevailing images of the game is Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks chewing on his mouth guard in between whistles. So how do we know if he is wearing his mouth guard properly while he is chasing down a puck and making a play? Furthermore, how do we know that chewing on his mouth guard does not damage it's ability to protect him?
Mouth guards don't just prevent broken teeth, but they also help prevent concussions. If Kane or any other player damages his mouth guard, the ability to protect the player from serious injury becomes compromised.
Softer pads are an important step to protect players from serious injuries as well because hard-shell pads can batter an opponent and cause injuries. What's the point of having equipment that protects the user if it injures an opponent or a teammate?
The NHL is regularly researching ways to better protect its players, but it should also consider taking steps like these in order to monitor how protective equipment is used to help make the game safer.
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