Has the Brutality of the NHL Forced League Officials to Revamp Player Safety?

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Has the Brutality of the NHL Forced League Officials to Revamp Player Safety?
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

One sporting ideal that all casual fans adore is the rugged, barbaric nature of sports. Oftentimes, football is compared to the great roman battles at the ancient coliseum.

Hockey is certainly relevant in this analogy. If you forgot, two men, or in many cases, group-fighting is allowed. If anything, the risk for injury intensifies due to the slippery-slope nature of the icy sport.

Recently, no news has been bad news for the NHL. One of the league’s biggest stars—if not the biggest—Sidney Crosby has been sidelined with a concussion. All concussions are serious and should be treated as such. 

Although, some concussions and steamroller hits in hockey have a much more critical outcome, as we found out this week. 

The severity of the recent collision was brought to light after the Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara and the Montreal Canadians Maxi Pacioretty came together. Needless to say, the 6’8” 265-pound Chara came out unharmed.

Of course, that does not include his game misconduct penalty and ejection.

Anytime another player’s head and neck make first contact to the boards, the outcome will leave plenty to be desired. A major concussion and a broken vertebrae bone leaves Maxi Pacioretty’s career in the balance.

This is a growing trend in all mainstream contact sports. The hits are not intended to be malicious, but when herculean athletes of all sorts are galloping at full speed, contact is inevitable.

As casual sports fans, who doesn’t like contact? That alone is a big factor in the entertainment value and the fans' expectations before watching a hockey or football game.

So far, the NFL has kept up with the evolving safety precautions necessary to maintain a brutal sport.

The NHL, as a game, has not changed much since the inaugural season in 1917. With players performing on razor-sharp skates, shooting a hockey puck in excess of 100 mph and laying out punishing body checks, the equipment needs to evolve.

Remember, this is a sport that allowed their players to wear zero protective headgear until 1979.

Each season, both Riddell and Schutt seem to unveil a new style of protective headgear that is scientifically tested at the highest standards. Riddell’s newest helmet, Revolution Speed, received tremendous reviews over the last two years.

In hockey, the evolution of the helmet appears limited. In football, most players’ chinstraps are tightly secured. Without correctly buckling the chinstrap, the purpose of the helmet goes out the wind.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Crosby with a loose chinstrap, with limited support. He has not played since.

Helmets are form-fitting, so the head and more importantly, the brain does not rattle on impact.

Look at all of the NHL players and their helmets. The chinstrap is loose and leaves the helmet ineffective.  Most of the times, hockey players are adjusting their helmets after routine hits throughout the game.

As we saw this week, a routine hit, with over-sized bulldozers on skates, a player was injured. Witnessing a player or teammate leave the ice on a stretcher is a difficult sight to take in.

Maybe better-suited protective helmets might have limited the severity of Pacioretty’s injuries, but that is unknown until advancements are made to the helmets.

Certain injuries are just a fluke coincidence, others are ill-mannered and the remaining knocks come with the nature of the game.

No one knows what improvements can be made until they are made. For now the NHL’s shining star, Sidney Crosby, remains sidelined with a concussion, with no timetable for a return in sight.

Maxi Pacioretty could no longer have a career in the NHL. 

That alone should press the issue on stiffer helmet safety protocol. After all, fans of the NHL witnessed nearly 100 years of eroding hits.

Perhaps it is time to elevate helmet safety, once and for all. 

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