It seems strangely appropriate that, on the day Marc Savard plays his first game against Matt Cooke since a Cooke hit gave Savard a concussion, the head shot debate seems to be reaching yet another fever pitch.
On Friday night, Calgary’s Tom Kostopoulos hit Detroit’s Brad Stuart hard, breaking his jaw. Kostopoulos was suspended for six games for the hit
Meanwhile, one of the game’s biggest stars (and arguably its best player) Sidney Crosby is also sitting on the sidelines, recovering from a concussion caused either by a hit from David Steckel of the Washington Capitals or Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The exact cause of Crosby’s concussion isn’t known and neither player was suspended for their hits, though Hedman was given a boarding penalty. Crosby wasn’t happy with the hits and the lack of punishment that followed.
“When I look at those two hits and we talk about blindside – that’s a big word – and unsuspecting player… there’s no puck there on both of them,” Crosby said.
“It was a direct hit to the head on both of them. When you go through the criteria, I think they fit all those.”
Detroit Red Wings veteran Kris Draper felt that the Kostopoulos hit on Stuart was the definition of a head shot as well.
“(League officials) talk about head shots,” said Draper. “Well, this is obviously a clear cut one when you break a guy’s jaw.”
However not everyone felt the same way. Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster disagreed with the suspension in a team-issued press release:
“The player was batting at the puck and Tom hit him in the chest and finished his check through him. He did not target the head, and we do not believe the head was the initial point of contact,” said Feaster.
The NHL continues to struggle to walk the line between leaving a large amount of physicality in the game and protecting the health and safety of the players involved. Of course, the league’s incredible lack of consistency with enforcing rules and handing out discipline makes the situation even more difficult.
A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact, or a hit to an unsuspecting and vulnerable player in which the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact, is not permitted.
Would that solve the problem? Probably not. It still leaves room for ambiguity and thus room for continued inconsistency. What exactly does an “unsuspecting and vulnerable player” look like? Re-writing the rule won’t stop the league from spinning their wheel of justice when it comes to handing down suspensions.
So what does the league do? Take all contact with the head out of the game completely?
Pat Brisson, the agent of both Crosby and Stuart, thinks so.
“If I’m in control of a high stick that hits someone in the face I get a penalty. A hit to the head should be viewed in the same way. It shouldn’t be up to the ref to decide if he meant it. At the end of the day it was a hit to the head. It shouldn’t be up to Colie (Campbell) to decide the intentions there – a hit to the head should be a suspension.”
Would completely taking head shots out of the game damage the sport of hockey? Or it would save the lives of those who play it? Or would it do both?
Thus the debate continues.