Time for change in the NHL

Posted: March 16, 2011 in NHL

The biggest story of late in the National Hockey League has been the shots to the head and brutal hits dished out this year. Historically a physical sport filled with intensity and passion, hockey is taking a serious turn for the worse and they need to address several issues before it’s too late to save this great sport and the league that defines it.

In the past 10 years I’ve noticed the role of the goon reach it’s peak of necessity but also become absurd. I remember seeing highlights of older games and hearing stories about the great players who could not only score but also fight. This was important why? Because if you dealt a cheap blow the other team was going to come after you and you had better be ready to protect yourself. Now do I think this is right? Not really, but is it fair? OF COURSE! If you’re going to lay people out and try to injure others to gain advantage you better be ready to take what’s coming to you. With the “Goon” players out there, they seem to handle the dirty business but really contribute nothing else to the game except for the odd goal or assist. So why keep drafting players like this? Make it known that if you’re going to break the rules and be cheap or dirty you’re going to have to pay for it yourself and to be ready or don’t do it. It’s a simple attitude that would increase the competition level as players would focus more on playing hockey and not so much on getting even. Now as someone who has no problem sharing their opinion I may not always have the best supporting argument but I stand by what I say because that’s what I feel and I suffer any backlash from those who disagree. Players should be standing behind their play more and willing to accept the punishment that comes from dirty plays and looking for that edge without simply playing the game. Don’t expect the goons to go out there and fight on others behalf, someone tried to take you out then you settle it with them yourself or don’t but there shouldn’t be a hired goon to go around and take care of other people’s problems.

The game is great and as someone who did not play as a child growing up I’m still relatively new to the sport, but the last thing any sports fan wants to see happen in any league is the players, of any skill level or importance, getting hurt and hurt bad. There are many great examples this season of players taking shots to the head, blind sided hits, questionable location of the hits but the problem I think is bigger. Players are trying to take matters into their own hands and ignore the true problems. There is a serious lack of respect within the NHL, between the players themselves but also for the game and that goes for everyone. The league office needs to step in and make immediate changes. Remember when Sean Avery thought it would be creative to distract Martin Brodeur in the crease? Avery rule implemented the next day no more of that. So why not make immediate, if not immediately temporary, changes to the game now? You cannot sit and wait on these types of issues to solve themselves or think they will go away. Now is this an arm-chair quarterback point of view? Yes, but it doesn’t make it wrong or impossible. If you can change a rule that quickly and then revise it in the off season to make it more applicable to a broader range of situations then why not say “any hit to the head, with the shoulder, elbow, etc. 1 game suspension” and then revise the rule in the off season. Everyone who funds the league (fans, sponsors) seems to want a change yet isn’t getting it. This can then beg the question how long do we wait until something is done to seriously bring about change, a death on the ice, Paralysis? Plenty of stars (Lindros, Richter, Stevens) have retired from concussions in hockey alone.

As a fan and observer of the game, although not heavily, I can bring a more unbiased view and see that things need to change for the business of hockey and the sport of hockey. As more money is invested in the sport and players grow up wanting to play in the NHL we need to address these issues that are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s game. Changes must be made to ensure longevity of not only the sport but its players and its traditions. The Stanley Cup is regarded as one of, it not the hardest trophies in professional sports to obtain and to keep it that way the game needs to adapt. The best way to do that is to give the IIHF a call and have them audit the rules of the game and see where changes can be made for player safety that don’t hamper the game. I firmly believe that no touch icing is a must along with zero head shots and stricter penalties for fighting and instigating. Olympic and World Junior hockey is the best hockey you’ll ever see so why not try and bring that type of game to North America for 5 months every year? Something to think about.

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