NHL Hard Knocks: Making a Case to Ban Hits to the Head

Cody PetersContributor IMarch 19, 2011

MONTREAL, CANADA - MARCH 8:  Members of the Montreal Canadiens medical staff and players put Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens on a stretcher after being body checked by Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins (not pictured) during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on March 8, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

We have seen a fair share of hard hits this season throughout the NHL.

There was the much-debated Dave Steckel and Viktor Hedman collisions with Sidney Crosby, both of which happened within the first five days of the new year.

In late February, an unsuspecting Marc Staal was demolished by older brother Eric, in an awkward, albeit entertaining, exchange of brotherly love.

Most recently was the outrageous hit Zdeno Chara put on Max Pacioretty, leaving him with a broken cervical vertebra, along with a severe concussion.

The Pacioretty incident, coupled with an unpunished Chara, summoned a wave of criticism from organization personnel from across the league. It even spawned a series of GM meetings in Boca Raton to discuss the most intriguing and important question in the NHL: “Should there be a ban on hits to the head?”

A lot of hockey fans and analysts are saying that to ban certain hits would somehow lower the tough guy credibility of the league.

This type of talking might have gotten to the General Managers of the NHL. By the end of the summit weekend no verdict had been made, as most of them felt uncomfortable placing a ban on a part of the game that makes it so special and attractive to fans.

This crossroads between safety and sport is a perfect opportunity for this league to correct, or at least improve on, hockey’s biggest flaw.

This isn’t just a problem in hockey, but in all contact based sports. Football has been a more ‘full-blown’ sport for longer than hockey, and its aggressive hits to the head has become an irreversible trend, leaving the NFL in a tough position.

However, if the NFL General Managers were to place a ban or fines on hits to the head, hockey would benefit far greater than if it neglected to change these rules to preserve the sports’ ‘tough guy’ persona.

Why do they think trying to protect their players by banning brain-damaging hits would harm the league’s popularity?

They allow these guys go out on ice and fight bare-fisted until they get pried off of each other. If anything, fighting is more vital to the popularity and awesomeness in hockey than hard hitting is. I doubt a ban on ‘head-hunting’ would cause the NHL to become less popular.

When I read about the GM meetings last weekend, I kept seeing posts about how pro-ban Mario Lemieux is and how he was making a big push for others would agree to a rule change. Initially, my inner Capitals fan made me think, “Shut up Mario. No one cares.”

I quickly rescinded that thought.

As I thought more and more about this issue, I began to realize Lemieux’s point of view on this issue. I also remembered how HBO’s ‘24/7: Penguins v. Capitals’ had managed to persuade me that Crosby isn’t such a bad guy after all. I felt a lot of sympathy towards Crosby. If Alex Ovechkin were to be knocked down with hits to the head just as Sid Crosby was, I would have been outraged myself.

To put a ban on hits to a player’s head would simply attempt to best preserve the most important thing to the NHL’s existence—the superstars.

The GMs did implement a new concussion protocol, to be used when a player is hit like Crosby was in the Winter Classic, or against Tampa.

But with this improvement came a lot of questions.

What were team doctors doing with head injured players, before this safety mandate? Were they actually listening to player insistence?

I believe that the NHL should make players with these injuries be checked out by an unassociated physician to prevent bias towards the allowance to return to the ice. Also, I can’t believe that after having been out since early January with concussion symptoms, that Crosby wasn’t showing symptoms after the Winter Classic collision.

With all this said, I ultimately wish that the NHL will do the smart thing, and make vicious hits to the head a frowned upon habit in the sport of hockey.