Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Few More Head Shot Thoughts

So I fell asleep during the second intermission last night and didn't wake up until 8 a.m. this morning. Long, busy week at work caught up with me, I guess. That means unfortunately that I don't have a lot to say about last night's game other than, I love when Toni Lydman scores and for him, the more ridiculous, the better. I'm sorry I missed all the post-game stuff because post-goal Toni is always one of the best interviews of the year. He's clearly happy but always hilariously self-deprecating. I'll have to poke around today, but if anyone knows of some good Toni video or audio, please let me know.

For now, I mostly just wanted to thank everyone for linking, pointing out links to, and commenting on the last entry. I really appreciate that the comments here tend to be well thought out and respectful, even the dissenters. If you left a comment early in the day, I'd encourage you to go back and check out any you missed. But because I know some of you won't, here's a slightly re-worded bit from the last comment I left:

For me, this isn't just about Patrick Kaleta. It's about every player who is unappreciated and therefore unprotected by the NHL. It could be because he's a douchebag, it could because he's not a star or doesn't have any name recognition, it could because he plays in a market no one cares about. Whatever the reason, I'm tired of there always being an excuse to look the other way. We've heard league officials go on incessantly for the last couple of seasons about how much they want to get head shots out of the game, how concerned they are about concussions. I don't understand how people can talk like that and then look at a hit like Ruutu's which was directly to the head, realize the victim didn't return to the game and was suffering and neck and vision problems the following day, and shrug and say, "Well, it wasn't THAT bad." The hypocrisy involved is my primary problem.

PKB wrote an interesting post at Hockey Rhetoric about what he would change about the discipline system, and I think most of his points are good ones. There are a couple of things I'd add.

The first thing I'd add is that I think it's time to stop thinking too hard about intent. For one thing, I think very, very few players line up a hit with the intention of hurting someone. You can almost always honestly say, "He didn't mean for that to happen." For another thing, like Kate said in one of her comments, measuring intent is way too hard and leaves too many loopholes. I hate to keep coming back to the rules for high sticking, but I think they apply. If Jochen Hecht hits Ian White in the face with his stick, whether he meant to do it or not, Jochen will be penalized. We've all seen high sticks that were clearly accidents - probably most of them are - but they're still penalized because stick infractions can be dangerous. Why should shots to the head be treated any differently? They're far more dangerous, both in the immediate and in the long-term.

The second thing I'd add is that I think it's time to stop factoring the resulting injury into discipline too much. If the victim isn't going to play again all season and you want to make the sentence for the hitter stiffer then I guess that's okay. But the fact that the victim gets up and skates away from a dangerous hit doesn't make the hit any less wrong. It just makes everyone - victim, hitter, and league - real damn lucky. In addition, with all the research about concussions showing that the worst effects might not show up for years, the real damage on a head shot can't be seen with human eyes. It's time to get over the idea that no damage was done because the victim isn't bleeding or nursing a broken bone.

When a player gets away with one hit because he didn't mean to or it didn't do any serious damage and his next hit leaves someone like Sidney Crosby, or Alexander Ovechkin, or Jarome Iginla crippled on the ice, the NHL can throw the book at the guy and it's going to be too late. The damage is done. A star player will be gone, the NHL will be buried in a media shit storm they'll never get out of, and a lot of fans including me, will never look at a hockey game the same way. At this point, the NHL desperately needs to deter the kind of hits we're seeing more and more of and that means punishment should be harsh and it should come BEFORE the worst of the damage.

Go Sabres.


PKB said...

I probably should have mentioned your points. I agree with them. I think intent and degree of injury should count for nothing when evaluating questionable hits. Actually, now that I think of it, I can't even speculate how much intent and severity of the injury really does factor into that decision. Maybe it really matters, maybe it doesn't matter at all, maybe sometimes it matters. There really is no standard. And that's what makes this so frustrating.

I mentioned this when I wrote about the Richards/Booth hit and it's worth mentioning again. Players in the NHL right now look at certain situations and sometimes decide to try and make a big play out of it. I assume that's what Richards was trying to do when he saw Booth (this is where intent matters, in discussions of how to police and eliminate these types of plays from the game). Richards took a chance to make a big hit that would give his team a little momentum and it turned into a very dangerous play. Booth didn't act the way Richards expected. He passed the puck early and was looking for a return pass. Then Richards destroyed him and Booth never saw it coming. What I want to point out though is that Richards took a chance and that attitude is what needs to be altered.

Then you look at the Campbell/Umberger hit. Campbell took a huge chance on that hit and the stars aligned. Had Umberger turned or not touched the puck, things could have very easily been different. But Campbell also hit him straight on. Umberger had a fair chance to protect himself. Most players when they get these devastating checks to the head, do not. The hits are coming from the side or from behind. Maybe Richards and Ruutu expected that Booth and Kaleta would see them coming. But a person delivering a check shouldn't be making unreasonable assumptions like that. The risk is too great, in my opinion at least.

Shelby Rose said...

Again, another great post on the situation. I really am afraid that something is going to happen in this league where someone ends up dying on the ice because of a head shot, and then it's going to be far too late...

brian s. said...

The problem is the league office is reactionary and not proactive so there won't be any changes until a major incident occurs in the NHL. I believe there have been a few incidents in lower levels but they haven't caused changes in NHL policy because they weren't as publicized.