DETROIT — Mike Komisarek admits the NHL’s top stars like Sidney Crosby need to be protected.
But do Sid The Kid and his peers need to be protected from the same equipment they put on every night with the intention of protecting themselves?
Just call it hockey’s “Chicken and the egg dilemma.”
It is a glorious sun-splashed afternoon here in Motown and the Maple Leafs have just finished their practice at Joe Louis Arena. Having just been informed by an ink-stained wretch from a Toronto tabloid that he will not be suspended for a crushing, controversial hit on young Colorado Avalanche forward Mark Olver during the Leafs’ 4-3 victory in the Mile High City on Thursday night, Komisarek is chatting about his involvement in the efforts of the National Hockey League Players’ Association to make the sport safer.
According to Komisarek, the Leafs players rep, the dilemma over hockey gear is something that is an ongoing topic inside the PA. Indeed, in this case, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Sitting in front of his cubicle, Komisarek reaches back and grabs his set of shoulder pads. This, he says, is Example A.
“I like the smaller shoulder pads,” Komisarek says. “The ones now, they’re big, clunky ... you almost feel robotic out there.”
Robots wearing armour. Imagine that. Welcome to the NHL 2011.
This certainly isn’t your father’s National Hockey League, is it?
“They reduced the big plastic (pads), now they’re thick foam,” Komisarek said. “Whether that makes a big difference, I don’t know. If they are smaller, maybe guys won’t think they’re invincible if they’re not out there with the big shoulders.”
The concerns over equipment by the PA are nothing new. In fact, while his legions of detractors enjoy calling him “outdated” and “a dinosaur” at every possible opportunity, Don Cherry correctly has been preaching the dangers of modern-day equipment as “weapons” for years.
Komisarek brings up another legitimate point, one that 6-foot-9 Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara can sympathize with.
What happens if you try to check a much smaller opponent? With the lethal elbow and shoulder pads worn in today’s game, a simple check can cause plenty of damage because your shoulder is at the same level as the other player’s head.
Komisarek feels that might be one of the reasons Olver was hurt.
“I hit the guy,” Komisarek said on Friday. “I thought the puck was there. I saw it on TV. I thought it was pretty good timing. The only thing that might have hurt me was the height difference between myself and the guy. Going in, I had my elbow to my body, tried to get my shoulder into body, hit his chest square. It was a north-south hit. If that’s not a clean hit in hockey, I don’t know what is.
“Elbows, sticks, shoulders, they’re going to be in a guy’s face if you are going up against a smaller opponent. This is always going to be up for debate.”
Through it all, the league and the PA keep searching for solutions on an issue that contains plenty of grey areas.
“There are a lot of ideas being thrown around back and forth,” Komisarek said. “The one thing they are talking about is reducing the size of the shoulder pads. There’s been a lot of good ideas but nothing has been set in stone.
“No one likes to see Sidney Crosby on the shelf for a couple of months,” he continued. “People pay a lot of money to see him. He’s the face of the league. When he gets a couple of concussions, it’s going to raise a lot of eyebrows and start a lot of debates.
“At the end of the day, I think the league and the players association are doing everything to protect the guys and make the league as safe as possible. At the same time, they are trying to keep the physical element which has always been the staple of hockey.”
But for how long?