NHL: Hits-To-The-Head Debate Begins Again

Matt EichelSenior Writer IOctober 26, 2008

How many times can you ask the same question and seemingly get nowhere?  

That's how perhaps many fans, players, and others in the NHL feel about the recent strings of classified "head-hunting" hits.  And re-born is the debate about the legality of these hits and where to draw the line.

Still within the legal limits of what the NHL defines as a "legal hit", New York Islanders forward Doug Weight's hit on Carolina Hurricanes rookie Brandon Sutter still puts a sour taste in anyone's mouth.  Sure, Sutter had his head down coming through the trolley tracks and paid the price for his lack of vigilance in the neutral zone.  Yet, such injuries are needless, and the players delivering such injuries become public enemy No. 1.

Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is not happy with the current stance the NHL is taking on such hits, including the most recent one on Sutter.  "The league should at least stop saying it's concerned with hits to the head, because it's not.  I've had four players—Matt Cullen, Trevor Letowski, Erik Cole, and Brandon Sutter—get badly injured on hits to the head and only one of the guys who hit them was suspended."

"Don't tell me the league is concerned about hits to the head because it's not."

Back in his days in Pittsburgh, Penguins forward Colby Armstrong was noted for throwing a few borderline checks into Letowski and Montreal Canadiens' Saku Koivu.  In the latter case, Sheldon Souray was ejected for sticking up for his captain while Armstrong went off mostly scot-free.

So far this season, there have been two hits to the head that have demanded the attention of the NHL—Weight on Sutter and Kurt Sauer's hit on Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn.  While both were deemed "clean" by NHL standards, they left the players that got the short end of the stick injured with concussion-like symptoms.

If the NHL has learned nothing from the shortened career of the supposed "Next One," Eric Lindros, players' safety is in jeopardy.

More and more, there have been those players who head-hunt, whether they mean to or not.  In recent cases of checking from behind, Ryan Hollweg was ejected for his hit on St. Louis Blues rookie defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and has also been suspended.  In the case of checking from behind, players receiving a hit when their numbers are facing away from the boards can get seriously injured.

In the same way, players taking hits to the head can get injured.  Concussions are dangerous—not only to the players during the remainder of their careers, but also during their life after the NHL.

And so while the NHL twiddles its thumbs and pretends that everything is all right in hockeyland, they are missing the biggest oversight of the entire league in the last decade—head shots.

Whether it be New Jersey Devils' blueliner Scott Stevens ending Eric Lindros' career in Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh defender Brooks Orpik drilling Eric Cole into the boards, breaking his neck, the NHL should consider checking from behind and head shots with increased severity.

This subject needs to be broached, for the sake of its players—and the sake of the game.