Just a matter of time

BARRY MACDONALD -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:53 AM ET

It is a potentially lethal brew.

A player trying to make an impression with his employer, playing the style that best suits him and his chances of permanent employment in the National Hockey League.

The player, for this discussion, is Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks. The style is best described as hazardous to everyone's health, including his own. A style that is his meal ticket to plane rides, not the iron lung.

Saturday night in Edmonton, Rypien ran Oiler defencemen Mathieu Roy into the end boards. Rypien left the game on his own two feet, earning a boarding major and a game misconduct for his trangression. Roy left the game on a stretcher, for precautionary reasons.

The good news for Roy is that in the wake of the incident he had movement in all of extremities. The bad news for the NHL is that this is going to happen again. And again. And again.

At some point, somebody's extremities aren't going to have movement. There is no way around it. Some NHL players are compensated well for scoring goals and preventing goals. Many are compensated well for running into people.

It is part of the game, it is a part of the game that sells, and it is a part of the game that the majority of hockey fans find vastly appealing.

Take away tackling from the NFL. Plenty of good seats would be available. Same thing with the physical element of hockey.

Here is the problem. Today's players are bigger, stronger and faster. The rink size has not changed. There is a premium on players who can be belligerent, but actually play, as opposed to simply fight. The new obstruction rules preclude the use of the stick or body parts to impede the progress of another player.

What you have is a 200-pound player, instead of a 185-pounder, arriving in ill-humour near the wall of that 200-foot by 85-foot sheet of ice at full speed. I might have butchered Physics 12, but I know a mismatch when I see one.

And more than ever in the NHL, the advantage for the hitter over the hittee is pronounced.

Both are responsible at the point of contact. Rypien, to his credit after the game, said he could have eased up a bit. Oiler coach Craig MacTavish, while critical of the hit, did allow that players in vulnerable positions need to position themselves accordingly.

Alain Vigneault didn't think a penalty should have been called. He didn't like seeing a player hurt, but he simply felt the hit was part of hockey.

If Rypien decided to peel away from Roy, he would have heard about it from Vigneault. When you are trying to get noticed, you do what it is expected of you. Rypien is expected to hit people.

You can't convince me this issue is completely lost on the suits at head office. In terms of a very serious injury, they are skating on thin ice. The hits just keep on coming.

Mathieu Roy got up. Eventually. So did Dean McAmmond. But at some point, and I'm afraid this is sooner than later, a player will go from the ice, to a stretcher, to a hospital bed, to a wheelchair.

It's not an if. It's a when.

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Barry Macdonald is co-host of BS in the Morning on the Team 1040 from 6-9 a.m.


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