Head Shots, Concussions In Hockey - Brendan Shanahan Has Lost Control Of The NHL
With the tragic deaths of three NHL enforcers in the 2011 off-season, the league began the 2011-2012 season focused on cracking down on head shots. There was a lot of talk of a new era of no nonsense, and zero tolerance from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Early in the season we witnessed some evidence that the league was cracking down on hits to the head, in fact, it appeared that hitting of any kind would be frowned upon. The Washington Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin was issued a three game suspension for a relatively tame looking hit, that Shanahan labelled as charging, because Ovechkin's skates came about an inch off the ice just prior to making contact with his opponent.
As the season came to an end, Shanahan and the league had failed to show any sort of consistency in handing out punishment for illegal hits and violent infractions. Just a few weeks before the opening round of the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks saw their leading scorer Daniel Sedin, fall victim to a vicious elbow thrown by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. This was not a case of an over exuberant hit, or finishing a check, this was an obvious head hunting expedition, with clear intent to injure, specifically targeting the head. The Montreal Gazette described the hit as "Duncan Keith's deliberate elbow to the head, driving the hard sheath of his elbow pad into Sedin's head."
With only a few games remaining in the season, prior to the start of the first round of the playoffs, this was the league's opportunity to make a statement. The statement they made appears now to have been heard around the league. While Daniel Sedin has been sidelined with concussion, leaving the Canucks without their leading scorer in the first round of the playoffs, Duncan Keith was given just 5 days of rest and relaxation in preparation for a playoff run.
Apparently Raffi Torres got the message loud and clear, he sent Blackhawks star forward Marian Hossa to the hospital in game 3 of their first round series against the Coyotes. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was furious when asked about the hit, but he might want to give it some thought before he reacts? If Keith gets a 5 game suspension for using his elbow, what should Torres get for using his shoulder? Perhaps 1 game, maybe 2? I am sure the Coyotes will take that trade off, and when Torres comes back, they might as well send him after Kane and Toews.
In the first few games of the opening round of this years playoffs, Shanahan was given several opportunities to make a statement, and finally crack down on the obvious head hunting. Nashville defenseman Shea Weber was caught planting the face of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg into the glass with his hand, and repeatedly driving his head into the boards. This is exactly the type of play the the NHL is supposedly trying to eliminate, this is not a hockey play, this is no more than a blatant cheap shot. It is shocking that Weber received only an arbitrary fine, and no suspension, while other players are suspended for body checks that are classified as "dirty". For example, if you call the Byron Bitz hit on Kyle Clifford (Vancouver-LA), dirty, then what Weber did to Zetterberg would have to be classified as "filthy".
The Canucks are probably not happy with the league at the moment, they lost their leading scorer to a vicious head shot, and in their last game Dustin Brown took a run at their captain Henrik Sedin. Brown took several strides toward Sedin, who had just passed the puck and was engaged with another player, and Brown left his skates and delivered a punishing hit to Sedin, leaving him lying on the ice unable to stand, he crawled to the bench.
We all remember the ugly incident that occurred when Todd Bertuzzi went after Steve Moore back in 2004. Unfortunately the attack resulted in the end of Moore's career, and Bertuzzi has never been the same player since. It was shocking to see an almost identical incident in a playoff game between the Senators and The Rangers, when Carkner went after Brian Boyle, and continued raining punches down on him well after he collapsed into the boards. This had all the potential to be a re-run of the Bertuzzi incident, but luckily Boyle wasn't injured on the play. It is important for everyone to realize, the intentions of Carkner and Bertuzzi were identical, it was only the result that was different.
As a fan of the game, the last thing I want to see is the league taking the hitting out of hockey, in fact I wrote an article just a few months ago expressing my concerns that the apparent crackdown was leaving players hesitant to deliver any sort of body check. The league needs to distinguish the difference between a head shot, and a body check, because while hitting is part of the game, elbows, high sticks, and face plants into the boards should not be discussed in the same light. The league needs far more consistency when it comes to handing out punishment for vicious plays, and separate the obvious cheap shots from the over aggressive hockey plays, and deal with them accordingly.