A few other bloggers have already discussed the Jarkko Ruutu hit on Patrick Kaleta and the lack of a suspension so I was going to pass on the whole thing, but it's really bothering me, and hey, I started this blog partly to express my opinion. This might be a little all over the place. We'll see.
I, like most fans, have grown accustomed to rolling my eyes at the NHL's erraticly applied discipline, but the lack of a suspenion here makes me genuinely furious and the more I watch the hit, the more upset I get. Ruutu skates past Kaleta's body and hits him solely and directly in the head. If that's not a head shot, what the heck is? Every excuse anyone has ever used - the players were both moving at top speed, the victim turned his back at the last second, the victim had his head in a bad spot - can be tossed out because none of them apply. And you know what, I'm sick of those excuses anyway. Good grief, wake up, NHL. If you can demand a player be responsible with his stick, demand that he be responsible with his body too. Quit trying to make things safer by adjusting the equipment and do something to change the behavior.
The Bob McKenzie commentary on the Ruutu hit has been commented on in a few places too, namely Bfloblog and Sabres Edge, but I think it bears repeating that it was awful. I understand McKenzie was saying Ruutu should be suspended and was merely speculating that the league might not do so, but almost everything else he said was garbage. For him to report that Kaleta came back in the game when he didn't play a single second of hockey after getting hit is the epitome of irresponsibility in reporting especially since that was a major part of his argument in why the league might not hand out a suspension. There is zero excuse for not getting that right and there is zero excuse for no one correcting that on the air.
What offended me much more however was McKenzie's tosssed off comment about never knowing whether Kaleta is really hurt or not. Look, I'll be the first person to agree that Kaleta is no angel on the ice. I've questioned his game many times over the last couple of seasons. I think overall he's been much more responsible this season, but I understand that he earned his reputation fair and square, and I understand that those reputations, once developed, are hard to shake. But one thing I've never seen Kaleta do is milk an injury. To hang that kind of reputation on a player who doesn't deserve it is ridiculous. Again, extremely irresponsible. He missed a lot of time last season with neck problems so yeah, his head going into the boards might have done some damage. Then again, in TSN's world, Kaleta went back in the game.
This evening James Mirtle linked to a story in the Globe and Mail about a study of former athletes' brains and how there's now proof of hockey concussions leading to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, basically degenerative brain disease. The hockey player in question, Reggie Fleming, was in his 70s and played before helmets and improved safety equipment, but considering how hard some of that improved equipment is, how much bigger the players are now, how much faster the game is, I don't know how anyone can read this article (which I recommend you do) or others like it without being concerned. Some of the effects of concussions mentioned are sensitivity to light, noise and motion, emotional outbursts, inability to concentrate, loss of memory, depression, and potential links to Parkinsons, strokes, and dementia. Even the less severe symptoms are scary. Think about how hard it would be to get through a day if light, noise, and motion bothered you. The story states that the NHL has officially reported more than 10 concussions while unofficially, there are reports that number is more than double. I'm gonna go with the unofficial number there.
I'm sick and tired of the star player/scrub double standard. In the McKenize clip above, Keith Jones starts strong by saying he doesn't care about Kaleta's reputation, but when they move on to the David Koci hit on Mike Green, he argues that Koci should get at least five games because he hit a star player. That's crap. I don't even want to hear it. I understand that Kaleta is not as valuable to the league as Sidney Crosby. I do. Crosby being forced to retire due to a head shot would be a huge story and Kaleta would be a blip on the screen. But head shots and concussions go far beyond the ice and into a player's quality of life, and Patrick Kaleta deserves the same quality of life as every other player in the league no matter how much other fans hate him. You care about all the players or you care about none of them. Judging by the NHL's decision here, I'm forced to conclude that they don't care and that almost makes me feel bad for being a fan of their product.
ETA: Just read this story from Mike Harrington, and I'm appalled at the league's attitude that there was no noticeable injury on the play. Are you kidding me? Because Kaleta didn't bleed it doesn't count? He didn't finish the game. He's having neck and vision problems. The fact that the NHL could overlook symptoms like that goes to show that all the talk about head shots and concussions is just that. Talk. Can't see the damage to a brain so it's cool.