Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big Hits Endangered By Manufactured Hysteria

The never ending “head-shot” debate has hit a fever pitch in Canada and the usual suspects are one step away from rioting in the streets if the GM’s of the league don’t make an expected rule change in the coming days. The phrase “ad nauseum” doesn’t even begin to describe the frantic hand-wringing by the hockey media who are now actually making significant headway in eliminating big hits from the NHL.

Because make no mistake about it, if you make all contact with the head a standard penalty, you are slowly but surely going to eliminate all big-hits from hockey or at least create a scenario where every hit, even minor ones, are going to be scrutinized creating another mess similar to the “toe in the crease rule” that plagued and embarrassed the league in the late 90’s. If you think it’s a big topic now, wait until each hit is analyzed to death every single night with pundits wondering whether the ref made the right call or not. In essence we are headed towards the NBA on Ice or Major League Soccer where diving and faking injury is just as important as scoring points.

The very mechanics of big hits virtually ensures the head is going to be involved.

Think about it.

The hitter is running into a player who is skating, which means that his head is lower by virtue of the fact that no one skates perfectly upright. If the hitter puts his shoulder into the skating player, it’s going to either hit his head, his shoulder or his high chest. If it hits his high chest or shoulder, the player’s head is on a thing we call “a neck”, which is a swivel. The momentum of the head will ensure it goes forward or sideways bringing it into contact with the hitter’s shoulder. If that doesn't happen, chances are the head is going to hit the ice. Maybe fans would prefer players go for gut shots. Or maybe they don’t want hitting at all.

There is no way around it unless you outlaw all hitting with the exception of old-school hip-checks. And we all know that hip-checks can just as easily turn into a situation where a player’s knee gets taken out if the hitter is off by just a few inches.

So then there will be a predictable uproar about knees getting hurt and grown men will cry for the poor millionaire athletes who sacrifice their bodies for our country….. errrrrrr…. our entertainment. (Isn’t it funny how fans are so critical of “millionaire players” nowadays and call them lazy and selfish on talk radio shows all day long but they recoil in horror at the idea of one getting hurt on a legitimate hockey play. Maybe the one way Dany Heatley can win his way back into the hearts of Sens fans is to take a big hit and watch all the pity flow his way from north of the border. You can’t cheer for that folks. That would be hypocritical.)

This is, after all, a sport. It’s entertainment. These athletes get paid a lot of money to endure physical risk. Anything above and beyond the norm is always dealt with by supplemental league punishment or in some extreme cases, actual legal proceedings against them. You can argue the punishments are lame, and I would tend to agree with you, but that doesn’t mean the sport must be revolutionized to eliminate an incident which is surprisingly rare when you consider the amount of collisions that take place during an average NHL game.

So please, give us all a damn break.

I realize that a new rule is virtually a fait accompli, but let this be my last words on the subject, right or wrong.

There is already a penalty for attempting to injure players who are defenseless (which seems to be the major stigma here). Just make the refs call it in appropriate situations, much like the league forced the refs to begin calling obstruction after the lockout.

There is no need to create another rule which will only further dull the product to appease new generation NHL fans who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, let alone the history and tradition of the game. These people will also be the first ones to turn the dial to something else when the sport they helped change seems about as exciting as an All-Star game (which contains no hitting and is a constant target of many of the same pundits for being terrible to watch!!!!)

If you want NBA on Ice, then follow the herd of pundits and bloggers down the path to invented crisis after crisis. If you want to preserve the dignity and excitement of the NHL, then let your voice be heard to at least offer some resistance to this pointless daily exercise that somehow passes as vital discussion.

Another thing to ponder - If a new rule is passed specifically banning intentional contact with the head, this inevitably opens the door to banning fights in the NHL. How can you allow hits to the head in one situation and not in another? It doesn’t work that way. A punch to the head can be just as damaging as a shoulder.

But maybe that’s the ultimate goal. The same people who want big hits out of hockey are probably not fond of fighting either.

In the meantime, we can all look forward to the endless debate.

Who won the game last night? Who scored a nice goal? Who cares?

The real question is who got hit and should we start a charity telethon to help them make it through their paid convalescence?


A take I happen to agree with:

Greg Wyshinski - Puck Daddy

"I'm not in favor of banning all contact with the shoulder to the head on hits, because it would penalize what are essentially good hockey plays (Doug Weight's hit on Brandon Sutter, close to the blindside but just a nasty open-ice hit) or the types of collisions that make hockey more entertaining for me (Ovechkin's hit on Jagr in Vancouver, which by the letter of the IIHF law was a head shot and should have been penalized).

I spoke with Keith Primeau when we were on TSN's Off The Record about the head shots issue as it relates to fighting, because I have a problem with fans or pundits screaming "protect the brains!" one minute and then having a winking endorsement of fists slamming against those brains the next. I find it an illogical stance, from a player safety standpoint.

Primeau said the difference was that a player doesn't ask to be hit to the head, but willfully accepts the risk in a fight. My argument is the player accepts risk by playing in the NHL, and that the League can only do so much to protect them in what is an inherently violent sport. "


Unknown said...

You are just as bad as the people you are criticizing. You are blowing this way out of proportion.

They aren't going to ban all contact to the head. They are looking at banning unsuspecting hits to the head with the shoulder. Hits like the Cooke hit, hits like the Richards hit, Hits that have potential to end a players career.

In a fight both players are expecting to get blows to the head so they are far from unexpected.

In Canadian Minor Hockey and International hockey there is no hitting to the head, and it is defined by initial contact being made to the head, if you hit the head first you are getting at least 2 minutes and a 10 minute misconduct (in Minor hockey) and it still seems like there are big hits in Major Midget.

You are worse than the people you are accusing of over reacting. Find the middle ground and be a reasonable Human.

Jeremy Milks said...

Stanky - Thanks for your concern about my humanity. It speaks volumes that we are even talking about "humanity" when discussing sports. Hilarious really. And who is overreacting?

If you read the article, I am saying that they do not need to put in a new rule. All they have to call is a misconduct penalty for intent to injure. It's already on the books. Creating a new rule is only going to make players hesitant to hit other players now. Some of the greatest hits in NHL history have come as a result of a player not knowing when a hit is coming. Maybe players should have a meeting beforehand and ask permission and set a time when it's okay to hit each other. That way we know when the games will be interesting enough to watch.

Anonymous said...

I think your rant is a bit of an over reaction. I don't think the NHL is going to come up with anything revolutionary.

My sense, from watching TSN, is that they will clarify the rules. As it stands now, Matt Cooke will be suspended. My sense is that after the GM meetings, everyone following hockey will be better able to predict how long that suspension will be, going forward.

Right now, every suspension seems arbitrary. I get the sense that they will fix that.

A lot of headshots receive suspensions already. I think the league will just clarify how to dole out that punishment more consistently.

If they say, "No contact with the head, even accidental", that's a good thing in my books. But, I don't see how that will change the on-ice product in the ways that you suggest. You can count the number of headshots you see in one week on one hand. Further, it's usually the same group of guys who are guilty.

The obstruction rule changes had a very direct and very visible effect effect on the game. This potential change will be barely noticeable.

In any case, my personal opinion is that this whole issue will be driven by legal liability concerns, in the end. All it takes is one ambitious lawyer who wants to make a name for himself (probably in the US), to file a class action suit against the NHL. It would be a PR nightmare for the NHL in the US.

They are better off getting in front of this issue.

Andrew said...

I'm against banning hits to the head in a black and white manner, but I do like the compromise position that the GMs seem to be leaning towards today: penalizing blindside hits to the head.

It's really just an extension of hitting from behind, which I think we can agree is equally dangerous. The removal of that aspect of the game hasn't turned the NHL into the "NBA on ice" (nice bit of hyperbole, btw), and I don't expect that banning blindside headshots will either.

Andrew said...

Also, as an editorial note, why did you choose a picture of Volchenkov delivering a hit that has NOTHING to do with this debate to headline your article? Shouldn't you use a picture of whatever you consider a "clean" headshot to be to illustrate the great action that would allegedly be removed from hockey?

Just sayin'.....

Anonymous said...

Volch is one of the best and cleanest hitters in the league. I also thought it was strange that you would use a picture of him.

Jeremy Milks said...

Just to clarify, it's makes perfect sense to want to eliminate intentional hits to the head with the intent to injure. Everyone agrees with that. That's not the argument. But the concern is overblown. Those hits are extremely rare and once you start legislating more rules, you start on a slippery slope where every big hit is going to be a debate.

If a player has his head down with the puck or is admiring a pass and gets hit as a consequence, isn't that what you would consider being blindsided?

Just call the obvious dirty headshots under existing rules and the more flagrant acts of violence will be curbed.

Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Anonymous said...

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions. But at least when you're in hell, you're still wearing you're Rolex.

If you don't take action, after the lawyers get through with you, you're still in hell, and you're broke.

Canucnik said...


You are not part of the problem...you are the problem! You probably played a little but never well enough to get really tagged...concussed because if you had you would be singing a different tune! As usual you are wrong..."Dead Wrong!"

Jeremy Milks said...

Hey Canucnik. You learned how to put together a sentence and spell the words correctly. What an improvement. Congratulations!

Andrew said...

For something that's "extremely rare", there have sure been a lot of high profile blindside headshots this year. 460 man games lost to concussion this year - the majority of which caused by headshots - so far according to TSN at 6:00pm tonight. 750 last year, including the playoffs.

As much as I'd like to agree with you that more legislation is bad, in this case blindside headshots are often considered legal because they're borderline and delivered mostly with the shoulder. That's just wrong. The illegality needs to be formalized, and suspension durations need to be lengthened drastically; that's all there is to it.

Anonymous said...

When you think about, who will these new rules affect?

I don't see anyone on the Sens changing their games. Alfie? Spezza? Phillips? None of these guys will change their approach. Fisher? He hits cleans. Volch and Carkner? Ditto.

The only person who may have to be a little careful is Chris Neil. But, he hits clean as well. His game won't change, he'll just need to be more aware.

How about the Leafs? They're fine as well. Maybe Phaneuf has to be more aware, but he also hits clean for the most part.

Mike Richards? His hit on Booth was a one-off. That's not his game. It was a mistake that should have been punished. But, I can't see how his game is affected by the potential new rules.

Chris Pronger will have to clean up his game. That's a good thing, he gets away with a lot.

This affects guys like Matt Cooke, Jordan Tootoo, etc ... Is it really so bad if we see them playing 60 games a year instead of 80 games a year, because they are suspended. No one will even notice.