What will it take?

March 10, 2011

Apparently for Mike Murphy and the NHL brain-trust, it will take a death to get their attention. Or, maybe even then they will shrug their shoulders and say it’s a violent game. First Sidney Crosby and now Max Pacioretty. And what is the NHL brass’ response, “just a hockey play.” Interesting, makes you wonder how a penalty can be “just a hockey play.” Also makes you wonder where the NHL Players’ Association is after one of their members nearly dies on the ice.

Max Pacioretty was 50 feet or more from the puck when his head appeared to be directed into the metal stanchion by Zdeno Chara at top speed. There is history between the two players. And, so rather than turn our attention to the devastating consequences of this incident, the NHL, as always, tries to deflect our attention onto the unanswerable question of intent. The on-ice officials saw it for what it was: gross interference with intent to injure. Five-minute penalty for gross interference and a game misconduct, presumably with the knowledge that the league officials would review the incident and serve up the appropriate punishment. So the league let the injured player down, they let all NHL players down, they let their on-ice officials down and they let minor hockey in this country down. The NHL brass had a chance, yet again, to send a clear and unequivocal message to all coaches and NHL players that head shots will not be tolerated, regardless of intent. As discussed in this blog previously, “intent” is a red herring. Strict liability with a significant penalty that escalates with repeat offences will reduce, if not all but eliminate, head shots in the NHL. More importantly, they will reduce head shots in minor hockey and reduce the epidemic of concussions now occurring in every rink in every neighborhood in this country.

Show some leadership NHL. Mr. Bettman, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Murphy – think about the health of your players. They are human beings, not robots. But more importantly, think about the kids around the world who are imitating their NHL idols. Please don’t wait for someone to die on your ice.