Banning Head Shots from Hockey a No Brainer

Filed in Sports by on March 13, 2010 1 Comment
Marc Savard unconcious after a blow to the head

Bruins center Marc Savard being attended to after suffering a Grade 2 concussion (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Violence is good for the business of hockey, yet it is terrible for the sport.

This distinction was made very clear, if only implicitly, by the NHL’s general managers this past week at a summit on proposed rule changes.  One of those changes, which would have banned blindside hits to the head—like the one that left Bruins center Marc Savard unconscious on the ice in Pittsburgh last Sunday—was met with a level of enthusiasm somewhere between tepid interest and total indifference.

In that instance, Pittsburgh enforcer Matt Cooke—who has a history of dirty hits, and who has already been suspended this season for a cheap shot—blindsided Savard with an elbow to the head. Savard, his head down and facing away from Cooke while releasing a shot, was spun around as his neck snapped violently to one side.  After a few minutes of lifeless twitching, Savard was carted off the ice on a stretcher. He was later diagnosed with a second degree concussion, and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Given the brutality of the play, the GMs should have been quick to act on a rule change to make such hits illegal. Instead, the hot topic at the meetings was a proposed pre-playoff playoff in which the eighth place and below teams in each conference compete for the final postseason slot. In short, a proposal to rake in money off a pseudo important extra playoff round trumped the need to stomp out dangerous hits from the game.

The GMs did address the issue, however obliquely, saying that new rules would make some—but not all—head shots illegal. Making a blanket rule on such hits would, the GMs claimed to believe, make players more wary of delivering blows, and thus essentially remove checking from the sport entirely.

This all seems too reminiscent of the big NFL scandal last year, when the league denied for months that former players were prone to serious cognitive problems, such as Alzheimer’s, at a rate much higher than the national average. Jarring hits are a huge draw for both sports, and it’s understandable why neither league would want to rein them in.

Yet the players’ health is far too important to be defended with only half-hearted rules. Banning Intentional head shots should be a no brainer, but unfortunately the GMs seem content to let the elbows fly and the concussions pile up.

Maybe they, not the players, are the ones really suffering from brain damage.

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