Head Games: Time for the NHLPA To Take a Stand Against Headshots

Jonathon AustinContributor IMarch 9, 2010

MONTREAL- FEBRUARY 2:  Shane O'Brien #55 of the Vancouver Canucks body checks Sergei Kostitsyn #74 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game on February 2, 2010 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Canucks 3-2.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

With the second annual meeting of NHL GM’s set to convene this week, “hits to the head” are likely to feature prominently in the agenda.

Matt Cooke and Mike Richards have made recent headlines with suspect hits that have outraged fans and prompted critical response from the media.

I understand fully that NHL general managers have a responsibility to direct policy and rule changes. They have an obligation to advocate on behalf of their players.

But at some point, one has to wonder when the NHLPA will take a stand of its own. On the ice, most players seem willing and able to fight their own battles. Off the ice, they remain wholly disengaged from management of their own affairs.

In postgame press interviews, players all too often provide deflective and vague responses when fielding questions concerning “hits to the head”.

They describe the incident as “unfortunate” or worse yet the offer up the same old tired excuse we have all heard time and again: “It’s a part of the game.”

Have the players grown truly apathetic about the state of the game, or are they simply in denial about how ugly things have gotten?

I would hope that each and every NHL player feels somewhat obliged to act as an ambassador for the game. I would hope that when a player leaves the ice on stretcher, someone speaks out, impassioned and objectively.

But NHL players have remained largely mum. This continues to perplex me.

With hockey in the midst of an identity crisis south of the border overshadowed by the NFL, NBA, and MLB, the NHL needs to begin to define itself a little more purposefully.

While aggressive and even belligerent play are worthwhile aspects of the game of hockey, malicious “head shots” are most certainly not.

The time has come for NHL players to decide if these types of hits truly are “a part of the game”.