Do the right thing

PAUL FRIESEN, Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:59 PM ET

Barry Trotz looks at what’s happened in the NHL the last few weeks, and worries.

Worries that if something isn’t done soon, things will get really ugly and hockey will be left to deal with an injury so horrendous, it’ll make recent concussions seem like hangnails.

That’s why the head coach of the Nashville Predators wishes players would put all posturing aside and simply get on board with the league’s new rule on headshots — even if it is being fast-tracked.

“By them trying to push the rule through so quickly here, that’s just doing the right thing for the game,” Trotz said of the effort by NHL governors. “Because if they don’t pass something quickly here, there’s going to be another situation and it might be even more dangerous than the previous ones.

“Someone’s really going to get hurt, unless we patrol it.”

By late Wednesday, it appeared the NHLPA was willing to endorse a rule that would allow the league to immediately begin handing out suspensions for blindside hits to the head. A players vote was expected within 48 hours.

But word is players initially wanted to go even further, adding minor and major penalties.

The league issued a late-day statement suggesting it was prepared to move ahead, with or without the support of the players.

“We can tweak it in the summer, but let’s get it right, right now,” Trotz said. “Because there’s too many guys going down here. Let’s not get all political and go, ‘We’ve gotta have our say here’ — you’ve got to do something quickly.”

Perhaps if players rubber-stamp this thing, those who’ve been running around looking to knock someone’s block off will think twice.

It’s sad, but the threat of a suspension, without pay, is apparently what it takes to get their attention.

Trotz, born in Winnipeg, raised in Dauphin, is the second-longest serving head coach in the NHL, next to Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, with 12 years under his belt.

The hits he’s seen this season disturb him, especially the way Mike Richards destroyed an unsuspecting David Booth, which drew no suspension.

“It just did not seem right, a guy being hit that violently,” Trotz said. “That set the tone. And there’s one after another.”

The way Chicago captain Jonathan Toews of Winnipeg was levelled earlier this season by Vancouver’s Willie Mitchell, who’d just stepped out of the penalty box, bothered Trotz, too.

“That’s what we’ve got to take out of our game,” he said. “Because there’s got to be a little bit of respect for the player that is unaware.”

So why are we seeing so much more of it?

Trotz figures the game is much faster since a lot of the hooking and holding have been eliminated. And there’s far less room in the offensive zone, with three backcheckers coming back hard — some looking for a victim with his head down.

He knows it’s a fine line. He coaches players to finish their checks, and be physical.

Heck, the Predators have one of the league’s nastiest hitters in Jordan Tootoo.

“The physical play is good. That’s what hockey is about,” Trotz said. “The legal hit, straight on, and the hip checks, that has to continue. But the ones where the guy is cutting across the middle and you get the tracker getting him unaware, they’ve got to take those out.”

Trotz’s Predators are in the thick of a playoff race in the west, in sixth place before Wednesday action.

The intensity is cranked up — and so is the danger.

“It’s that time of year when games are even more critical, and you’re going to try to intimidate and go after key players in the playoffs,” he said. “One thing leads to another. You’ve got to do what’s right.”

Before it goes horribly wrong.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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