NHL Has Its Head in the Sand When It Comes to Protecting Players

Tim KingCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2010

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 07:  Marc Savard #91 of the Boston Bruins is taken off the ice by medical staff after being injured in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena on March 7, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins defeated the Bruins 2-1.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
It happened again Sunday in Pittsburgh.  You knew it would. 
Late in the third period Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard caught the puck in the Penguins zone about ten feet inside the blue line and prepared to launch a shot toward the Pens goal when Matt Cooke interrupted the proceedings with a shoulder to the right side of Savard's head.  While Savard did get the shot off, it's likely that he doesn't remember. 
It's doubtful he even remembers being in Pittsburgh at this moment. 
Savard hit the ice limp and remained there for several minutes before being removed from the ice by city paramedics.  For reasons unknown he was not taken to a local hospital but back to the team hotel where he spent the night.
What should be more amazing, but isn't considering that this is the NHL, is that there was no penalty called on the play. 
That Savard did not suffer a serious head or neck injury is just dumb luck in a season full of it for the NHL.  We've seen close to a half dozen plays just like this one in 2009-2010 and only now the league is getting around to talking about it.  Precedent tells us that they'll keep talking right up to the day that someone's career or life ends because of a hit like that. 
Every hockey player in a position to shoot just inside the blue line has a blind spot where ever quicker NHL players can hide and deliver such devastating hits.  The league also has a blind spot as well when it comes to the safety of its players.
Too many general managers and team presidents find nothing wrong with these plays and scream behind closed doors that to penalize such hits "Americanizes" the game too much. 
The neanderthals need to lose on this point and tomorrow would already be too late.  Matt Cooke is going to be suspended for the hit and that's OK, but the fact that he was not penalized on the ice is sending a mixed message to the players.
If your team needs the win and the guy who has been torturing your goaltender all night is in your cross hairs, the league is allowing you to live with the belief that it's OK to run the guy now and pay the fine later. 
The league is going to argue that it's too late in the season to make such a drastic rule change and it needs the summer to clearly define what rule will be in place next season.   That's garbage and the league knows it.  One press release and a conference call from commissioner Gary Bettman would end this once and for all.
But Bettman never played the game even on a recreational level, so he doesn't get how serious this is.
So far the league has been lucky in that nobody has died or been paralyzed by a hit like Cooke's.  It is also lucky that no superstars have been involved in such a play.  Put Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby on the receiving end of a hit like that and the game will spend years bailing out the bad PR that swamps it.