Unfortunately, serious injuries have been a major storyline this NHL season. From headshots to slewfoots and everything in between, it’s hard to turn on the TV or look online without hearing about another injury or a potential “dirty play.” While some continue to blame “the players having no respect for one another,” there are a number of possible reasons for the injuries that have taken place this season.
The NHL made lateral or blind side hits illegal when they implemented rule 48 last year. However, that hasn’t stopped people from asking what more can be done and concussions and other injuries are still happening. Should more rule changes be made?
When the NHL came out of the lockout, they changed the rules of the game to make hockey faster and more exciting than ever before. However, is this same speed what’s causing injuries? Was the “old NHL” safer for players?
Outside of a few traditionalists, you won’t find many people who find the NHL less entertaining today than it was before the lockout. The common consensus is that hooking, holding and obstruction made the game slower, less interesting and prevented skill players from shining.
Since the lockout the game has been faster, the players have generally be younger and the sport is more competitive than ever before. Is that the perfect storm for injuries?
Possibly, but NHL injuries are not a new thing. The “old NHL” had its fair share of concussions as well. Pat LaFontaine had his career ended by concussions. Head injuries also limited Eric Lindros’ career. It’s recently been revealed that Bob Probert had degenerative brain disease that was caused by numerous hits to the head. Both the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident and the Marty McSorley/Donald Brashear stick-swinging episode took place during the “old NHL” and those remain two of the most controversial and violent acts in NHL history.
Of course that doesn’t mean that the NHL doesn’t have a problem on its hands. The safety of the players should always come first and just because injuries have always happened, that doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t find ways to reduce them whenever possible.
Even from a business perspective, something needs to be done. Now that Air Canada has threatened to pull its sponsorship of the league, others could follow. Today Puck Daddy speculated that the violence may turn some fans away from the game. The bottom line is that the NHL is more fun to watch when Marc Savard, Sidney Crosby and others are healthy and suiting up for their respective teams.
The NHL is faster, tougher and more competitive than ever before. The rule changes that were made after the lockout certainly contributed to that, but they’re not the only factor. Athletes themselves are in better shape than they ever have been. This is true in hockey as well as almost every other sport. We live in an age of specialized diets, customized training programs and incredibly well-engineered equipment. Millions and millions of dollars are spent making athletes the best they can be. This wasn’t the case in the past.
NHL general managers are meeting next week to discuss what can be done about the rise of concussions and other injuries. Whatever they decide, it hopefully isn’t a return to clutching and grabbing.
However, burying their heads in the sand under the rational that “injuries are part of hockey” is no longer an adequate response either.