Monday, February 7, 2011

NHL Rule 48.1: No bumps to the noggin. Sort of.

The games: Vancouver Canucks vs. Ottawa Senators. Edmonton vs. Nashville. Chicago vs. Calgary.

Why I chose them: Jordan Eberle and Shawn Horcoff are back. The Oilers just shut out the Predators. The Vancouver vs. Ottawa game is in high-def, a rarity on Center Ice.

Back to the future: With concussions and head hits in the news these days, I thought this would be a good time to refresh on the newest addition to the NHL Rulebook.

The rule: NHL 2010 - 2011 Rulebook. Rule 48, Illegal Check to the Head.

What it is: 48.1, Illegal Check to the Head. A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

What they do about it: No minor penalty provision. They go directly to a major penalty and an automatic game misconduct. The Referee, at his discretion, may also apply a match penalty if in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head. any player who incurs a total of two game misconducts under this rule, in regular or Playoff games, shall be suspended automatically for the next game his team plays. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game. If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion.

Aha. I see what's wrong with this rule: The punishment doesn't fit the crime. I mean, really, what's a few game misconducts and a suspension going to do to the offender, except piss him off a little? In the end if you bump a guy's noggin, eventually you come back. Trouble is, the guy you whacked usually doesn't, because he can't.

That is why I say let's give this a try: If you wonk a dude's noggin hard enough to take him out for the season or longer, then you are suspended for the same amount of time it takes to him to fully recover and return to the game. And if he has to retire because of your antics, then guess what? Better brush up that golf game, 'cause in my book you'd be toast.

Come on now, Sam, that's a little harsh now isn't it?: Nope. Head hits are a cheap, cowardly and easy way out of a hard situation. You want to beat a top 10 team or a player like Sidney Crosby in a huge game during the stretch run or playoffs? Play a better, faster, smarter game. If you are good enough to get into a top line in the NHL, then you are good and smart enough to find a better way than blind side/open ice hits to the head. Period. End of rant.

The Sidney Crosby factor: Is the League paying more attention just because it's him? Maybe, but think about it this way: it's just another way he's changing the game. Concussions have ruined players' careers and lives when they were still in their prime. The most exciting thing about players like Malkin and Crosby is that the best is yet to come, provided they recover properly and fully from their injuries. To miss out on what they will contribute to the sport in the next 10 to 15 years would be truly unfortunate and tragic.

Yeah, Sam, but lots of players got hit in the head and they went right on playing: Right you are. Eric Lindros carried right on, and we all know what happened to him, don't we?

Morals of the story:

1) The punishment needs to fit the crime, and it needs to apply to every player, every time. It works for disciplining little children, it should work for the NHL.

2) Smart players should find a smarter way to deal with their opponents. Like, ya' know, the kind of goals that Jordan Eberle scored in his first NHL goal. Or Derek Stepan's hat trick in his NHL debut. Cool, smart stuff like that.

3) Like life, when you're seriously injured in hockey, it's always better to take the long view. Coming back for a batch of playoff games may seem noble and necessary at the time, but if it means not ever playing to your potential again or missing part of the next season, it's not worth it.

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