Guest Author - Kevin Thorburn
The focus in the National Hockey League of late has not been the playoffs or who will win the Most Valuable Player Trophy, as it should be. Instead eyes from within the game and outside have been squarely watching body checks that involve the ever dangerous shot to the head, as well as other assorted cheap shots that can easily injure a player.
It is a sad situation, but it is difficult to feel sorry for the league, since it is a scenario they have brought on themselves. The perceived need to eliminate, or, at least, strongly discourage, fighting has put players in danger, no if, ands, or buts. Gone are the days when, after any particular player delivered some sort of cheap shot against another player, that offending player would be marked and would have to eventually, if not immediately, face the opposing team’s policeman. This was a very strong deterrent and encouraged fair play and respect among the athletes.
Players are bigger and stronger, the game is faster and there is no way the equipment can protect anyone from the force of the big checks or an errant and often vicious stick. The thoughts of these players being warriors in suits of armour lead opponents to think less about the possibility of injuring someone and it is quite obvious that the slaps on the wrist in the form of fines and/or suspensions are not going to stop this very real and serious problem.
Each attempt to protect the players via new rules and penalties will only lead to an increase in players being hurt as they start to feel safer under the guise of potential discipline and their guard goes down, along with their head, and the injuries continue – this time without penalty since the offending player will have done nothing wrong.
There may not be any answer to this conundrum now. The respect is gone and there is no way the powers that be in the league offices are going to admit they have made a mistake. The concern of these people is money, not player safety. This is, after all, a business they are running.