As even casual NHL fans know, concussions and headshots are on the rise around the league.
The game has never been faster and more exciting, but all this speed and excitement doesn’t come without a price.
Many feel that the NHL has now become far too reckless an environment for players to safely compete in — and for fans to stomach.
I can remember vividly the day the NHL decided to implement its new post-lockout rule changes, which were designed to open up the game and create more offence.
My immediate reaction — and I still believe this today — was it was stupid for the league to go that route. I predicted injuries would increase dramatically in a league with no red line and no ability to “pick” a forechecker, who then was able to plaster a defenceman into the boards.
I can remember thinking if you take out all the obstruction, players would no longer be able to defend themselves in a game where guys are always in vulnerable positions with the opposition continually barrelling in on them.
Players have always tried to deliver hard hits. If a player had his head down or wasn’t ready to take a hit, you didn’t blame the guy delivering the hit or look at it frame by frame in slow motion to see if the hit was legal. Instead, you’d blame the player who was hit for putting himself in that position or blame a teammate for not throwing a pick to stop the hit.
Many fans and pundits keep saying there is no respect in the game any more. I couldn’t disagree more. As far as I’m concerned, there has never been any respect in the game.
Many people who believe the game is getting out of control have short memories. They forget the actions of players such as Dale Hunter, Claude Lemieux, Ken Linsemen, Bobby Clarke, Dino Ciccarelli, Ulf Samuelsson, Bryan Marchment, Darius Kasparaitis and others.
One thing I know having played in the league both pre- and post-lockout is once the puck drops, pro hockey players are taught to win, and, like it or not, to hate their opponent for the next 60 minutes.
There’s a reason why NHL players made it to that level, and it’s not because they’re nice guys. Much like the ruthless businessman who makes it to the top, NHLers had to “step on” many opponents along the way to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
Don’t get me wrong — hockey players are great guys off the ice, but on the ice it’s a different story. Players are paid millions of dollars to play in the NHL. To stay there, they are conditioned to do whatever they think is necessary to win.
I remember many of my coaches’ pre-game speeches angrily pointing out how the guy lined up against you is trying to take away everything you have worked for all your life. “We respect their talent, but we will not back down” is the common theme preached in dressing rooms around the league.
Players respect one another before and after the game because the NHL is the best league in the world and the players know how tough it is to get there and stay there. But when the puck is dropped, split-second decisions are made every shift at breakneck speeds by highly competitive, intensely trained athletes.
If you respect your opponent on the ice, he will use that against you. He will make you look silly for allowing him extra time and space, and before you know it, you’re out of the league.
Game too fast?
NHL hockey is incredibly intense. When you are battling for a puck or trying to make a hit, you are not thinking about the other player’s safety. You don’t have time to think about the consequences of what might happen because of the incredible speed of the game, and you cannot play cautiously because you will end up being the one getting hurt.
The rising number of headshots and blind-side hits in the NHL isn’t due to a lack of respect. It’s due to a game that is too fast for players who are far more powerful and quicker than ever before.
I don’t want to see the return of clutch-and-grab hockey, but I do think the ability to throw a pick and get in the way to save a teammate from getting clobbered needs to be brought back into the game.