Despite Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby not lacing it up the last few games because of a mild concussion, he's still making headlines with his comments regarding hits to the head and what the NHL is and should be doing about them.
His comments have generated both positive and negative reactions from fans. Some think the NHL should listen to what Crosby, the face of the NHL and easily the most influential player, has to say, while others think his comments sound whiny and were made for selfish reasons.
Regardless of what side one takes, the question being consistently asked of the NHL following the Dave Steckel/Viktor Hedman hits on Crosby is, "Does the NHL need to do more to protect its stars?"
The answer is no.
Bear with me on this one.
Following the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard, the NHL correctly established a new rule that specifically prohibited blind-side, lateral or back-pressure hits to the head. The new rule didn't necessarily put a stop to the hits, but the repercussions for laying out those hits became much more extreme.
This rule is in place for every NHL player. Many people think the NHL is stricter in punishing certain players, especially repeat offenders, but that isn't the point.
Should the NHL be doing more to protect its stars?
The point is keeping all of the players as safe as possible in a dangerous and sacrificial sport. Having a specific rule in place may not stop a flying elbow smacking a defenseman in the kisser, but that is where the responsibility of the individual comes into play.
NHL players have to make an effort to care about the health and safety of their fellow athletes to an extent. Fiery rivalries aside, athletes should have a level of respect for each other and keep in mind that they wouldn't want one bad hit to end their own careers.
Clearly, the only place the NHL is contributing is in the creation and implementation of the new rule.
There really isn't more the NHL can do other than lay out the law for the rest of the League and protect the players. Doing more than that would mean that certain players would receive special treatment.
This, of course, cannot and should not happen.
With this in mind, there is no reason why Crosby should receive extra protection from the NHL simply because he's Sidney Crosby and the most important figure in the league.
I would even say that Crosby's comments on the hits don't imply he believes he should receive special treatment either, despite what many think. His comments sound more like a "Now that I've been there, I know how serious this issue is and what it does to those who have to go through it" mentality.
Whether people liked Crosby's comments or not, he is the NHL's biggest ambassador and his words will hold more weight than other players. Instead of analyzing why he said the things he said, there is a lot of truth behind his words, and they are meant to protect everyone, not just himself.
The NHL has to be consistent and fair in punishing individuals who break the new rule. These head shots and the injuries that follow are both devastating to the player and the team because of the time required to rehabilitate. Not to mention the long term risk it places on the player’s health.
Crosby, typically not an opinionated player off the ice, felt that now was the time to speak up after experiencing two shots to the head. With the help of his status, his words were enough to get the NHL's attention, but people shouldn't confuse this with the idea that Crosby will or should receive any kind of preferential treatment.
Rather, this generated discussions in a way we haven't seen since the Savard hit. The NHL is now on the hot seat thanks to Crosby's words and will be forced to deal with the consequences.
Anyone who thinks Crosby does receive special treatment should keep in mind that neither Steckel nor Hedman received any kind of suspensions for their hits, though Hedman had to serve a two-minute boarding penalty. The lack of disciplinary action against both illustrates that Crosby isn’t receiving any favors.
I don't expect the NHL to give any kind of special treatment to certain players mainly because of the message it sends to the world, namely that stars are more important than the other players in the NHL. While it's easy to think that, a "star" has a specific job on a team just like any other player.
Just because they receive more time on TV or inches in the paper doesn't mean they are more important than the agitator who creates space so the star can make plays. Without the rest of that team, there is no NHL.
In fact, giving stars more protection might be more dangerous in the long run. What agitator wouldn’t want to give a star his own “special treatment” with an extra shove or a high hit away from the official’s eye?
Once players hit the ice, their protection is out of the NHL’s hands and they surrender their safety to the ensuing 60-minute game. They all become equals on the ice, so the same idea should apply off the ice as well.
At this point, the NHL cannot do more other than protect each player fairly by making the correct judgments when head-hitting incidents come to the table. Asking for perfection from the NHL, however, is ridiculous. Mistakes will happen and players will slip by unpunished.
Along with equal protection, players must take some responsibility as well, making sure that their play isn't detrimental to another's long-term health.
Of course, if players feel the NHL has slipped up, I expect them to do precisely what Crosby did.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.