Pragmatic Justice: a long-overdue shift in Hockey's violent Culture
The need for Change
The post-lockout NHL, which dates back to the 2004 lockout season, sought to drastically change the increasingly violent culture in the NHL. By eliminating the act of tying up your opponent (by hooking them with your stick) while heading into the boards, the NHL seemingly made the rink a safer place for its coveted players. However, like many post-lockout changes, the plan backfired, and now checks are being delivered more severely BECAUSE players cannot tie up their opponents before crashing into the boards. The result today: more injuries in hockey than ever before. And whether equipment has evolved to be too strong, or too unforgiving, or whether players are just too fast to be confined to such a small space, hockey, especially- if not exclusively- of late, has become a horror show. Simply put, too many talented, young players are getting absolutely demolished, along the boards or in open ice, by the perennial, 225-pound goon. Indeed, it seems that every night another superstar is carted away on a stretcher- the result of a thunderous elbow or shoulder to the unsuspecting head. In the post-season, alone, we have witnessed at least two body-checks that can only be described as plays that "do not belong in the game of hockey". I'm speaking, of course, of the injuries suffered by Brent Seabrook and Nathan Horton, respectively- both of whom were removed from action after receiving dangerous, blindside blows to the head area. But the question remains, as it has remained since the lockout, how can the NHL curb the violent culture that has manifested itself into the fabric of hockey?
It's quite obvious that the NHL is, itself, confused with the rules, and wildly inconsistent with its granting of suspensions for 'dirty' hits. One hit that may have potentially ended a career goes unpunished, while another garners an undeserved 4 or 5 games. It's happened so many times- this season, alone- that I'm not even going to point out individual cases. Let's just say that 'injustice' and 'severe head injury' are two terms used far too often these days when deducing the fallout after a dangerous hit and the ensuing NHL discipline- or lack thereof. This blatant inconsistency of calls has become an epidemic in the NHL, and its given players the freedom to take liberties on other players whenever they please- "hopefully Bettman and (now) Shanahan missed that one!" So how can the maligned NHL, and its shoddy disciplining, right all the wrongs? How can the NHL redeem itself, and return justice to the game of hockey? By implementing one simple, very pragmatic rule; a rule that has helped found civilizations in the past; a rule that Hammurabi, himself, codified circa 1700 BCE. The rule I am speaking of, in its simplest form, is "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". How it would work in the NHL is equally simple to wrap one's head around.
Essentially, the rule is as follows: Unless it's an obvious case of accidental contact, and with some exception (as all rules have exceptions), the suspension following a dangerous or 'dirty' hit to an unsuspecting player entirely reflects the amount of time that that player loses due to injury resulting from said hit. In a nutshell; if you decide to viciously take out an opposing player from action via a dangerous head-shot, then you must be ready to sit in the press-box for as long as it takes your victim to recover. Sounds simple, eh? Well it is. And I strongly believe that if players knew, before delivering a check, that they may face serious suspension time, they would let up, and perhaps ease the hit on their opponent. I'm not asking to remove checking from the game, in fact, I'm not asking to remove anything. I love hockey as much as the next Canadian boy. That is why it kills me to watch a 22-year old star-in-the-making be carted away on a stretcher- on a weekly basis! The violent culture in the NHL, that seems to be directly linked to several aspects of the 'post-lockout era', is in need of a fundamental revamping. Pragmatic Justice, in a sport where players, ultimately, police themselves, is, in my opinion, a highly effective solution to ending serious injuries as a result of blindside hits to the head. Hockey, at one point, was revered for its speed, finesse, and athleticism. Sure violence is a part of hockey, as it is for several sports, but it is not the quintessential trait of Canada's favourite pastime. It's time for a culture shift, and it's time for hockey to reclaim it's position as one of the great team sports ever to be played- and, certainly, the fastest!