Canadian hockey fans agree on one thing: hits to the head in pro hockey are getting out of hand.
How to handle their punishment is not so clear cut.
In the wake of well-publicized head hits that have left players concussed, a whopping 80% of Canadians polled by Leger Marketing said the status quo needs to be changed. Six-out-of-10 Canadians think those guilty of hits to the head should be punished with longer or even life-time suspensions for repeat offenders while 20% of Canadians go as far to say violent hits to the head should result in criminal charges.
“The people are upset and its time for the league administrators and officials to react,” said pollster Jean-Marc Leger. “We’ve never measured a consensus like this for violence in hockey. The people are saying the adminstrators must solve it internally, but if they don’t react, there are going to be more and more people asking for police intervention. When you have 80 percent saying, ‘do something,’ they have to react. The message is clear.”
Only 10% of Canadians polled agreed that “hockey is a fast, tough game and the hitting needs to be left in. The focus on head hits is only because of a few recent injuries and this will pass soon enough.”
Hits to the head have become a a hot button issue in the National Hockey League following a number of incidents which have sidelined players with injuries. Washington Capitals defenceman Mike Green became the latest player to get suspended when he was told to sit down for three games after catching Florida Panthers forward Michael Frolik with an elbow in the face Friday.
Florida forward David Booth returned Sunday after missing 45 games with a concussion after he was hit in the head by Philadelphia Flyer Mike Richards Oct. 24. Booth was cutting across the middle of the ice when he was blindsided by Richards, who caught Booth in the head with his shoulder. Richards was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct, but was not suspended. At the NHL’s board of governors meeting in December, league owners were briefed on where the league stands at this point on blows to the head, what is considered legal and illegal and the league’s research into concussions.
It’s expected the league’s general managers will present either a new rule or a different way of interpreting existing rules to crack down on blows to the head on unsuspecting players when the GMs meet next month. Any new rules or recommendations will then have to be approved by the board of governors, likely at their meetings at the NHL draft in Los Angeles in June.
The challenge for the general managers is to come up with a way to deal with the dangerous hits while still maintaining the physical nature of the game.
There is a generational divide among Canadians on how hits to the head are perceived. Younger Canadians are less concerned with hits to the head. Among Canadians aged 18-34, 18% said hockey is a fast, tough game and hits to the head are part of the game. Canadians 55 years of age and older said they believe head hits have become too violent. Twenty-six percent of that age group believe police should investigate and lay criminal charges against the worst offenders.
The survey of 1,500 Canadian adults, conducted Jan. 25-27 for QMI Agency, is considered accurate to within 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.