NHL Falling Short of Expectations in Protecting Players

Immer ChriswellCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2011

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 11:  Eric Tangradi #26 of the Pittsburgh Penguins lays on the ice after taking a hit to the head from Trevor Gillies (not pictured) of the New York Islanders on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Isles defeated the Pens 9-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Today, if you clicked onto ESPN or the NHL's website, you found out that Trevor Gillies was suspended 10 games for his hit to the head in the New York Islanders game against the Minnesota Wild. While Cal Clutterbuck was able to return to the ice that game, still, this leaves the question: How? How did this happen?

The answer is a suspension system that is flawed. The NHL has proven through this decision that once again they aren't answering the calls to hits that cause, or could cause, serious injury to an opponent. 

The new rule involving blindside lateral hits is not enough. Since when is going after a guy's head something that is okay with the new NHL? When the NHL came out of lockout from 2004-05, the league was looking to change the game. They wanted to make it higher-scoring, faster-paced and more exciting.

They have succeeded in improving the game. Of all lockouts in sports, I think the 2004-05 lockout was one of the most successful in addressing pressing issues. However, now more than then, the NHL needs to stop the hits to the head.

Let's take a look at Trevor Gillies and exactly what he did against the Minnesota Wild. Coming off a nine-game suspension for the same offense as the recent one in Pittsburgh, Gillies, with only one minute and 51 seconds of ice time (in the second period), hit Cal Clutterbuck into the boards, targeting his head.

Under two minutes of ice time into his return, and he gets ejected. Where is the logic that says the suspension should be one game longer than last time? Repeat offenders deserve to be punished for what they have done. Gillies, however, was not adequately punished.

The NHL is running into a situation like that of the NFL and James Harrison. They have a player who knowingly participates in actions outside the rules of the game, no matter what is said. The difference between Gillies and Harrison: Harrison is a more elite-level player, while Gillies is a low-level enforcer, what the game doesn't need or want.

Gillies is not the only person who should have been punished. Recently David Steckel of the Washington Capitals walked for his blindside hit on Penguins star Sidney Crosby. Crosby has played only 32 games this season. Keep in mind, that's about half of what has been played.

How are players getting away with this? Simple: The NHL has not ever set a precedent about these hits. Many will argue it is tough to judge in a game. But why does everything have to be caught in game? Even if it isn't called a penalty it should be reviewed for suspension.

It's time for the NHL to step up on head contact hits. Every other level of hockey has measures to punish players for actions such as this. USA Hockey requires any youth hockey player who collects five serious offense penalties (head contact, hit from behind, etc.) to serve a suspension, normally a minimum of two games, ranging based on severity.

Matthew Barnaby said a ten game suspension was "good enough for me." However, it isn't for me. What I wanted to see was Gillies suspended the rest of the season.

What the NHL, along with many players and fans, are hoping is that the Islanders decide to cut Gillies loose, or suspend him from the team. But why make the team do it? They have nothing to lose in keeping Gillies, because they are that bad. 

I acknowledge hockey is a contact sport. I played it. And I also acknowledge the other ways to prevent this such as equipment changes, rink adjustments and various others. But at this point the NHL needs to prove they aren't shy on hits to the head.

The ball was dropped today when Trevor Gillies was told he would forfeit about $60,000 in salary. He should have lost the rest of his season, as victims of head checks often do (Crosby and Savard most notably). Where is the line drawn in the sand? Because right now, I do not see one.