There’s only one thing sadder in hockey than seeing a player such as Brandon Sutter lose consciousness and sustain a concussion after an on-ice hit. The change-the-game backlash and pleas to ban head shots are more harmful to the game.
It was a clean hit, plain and simple. There was no head-hunting involved, there was no penalty on the play and there’s no reason for revenge or game-altering rule changes demanded by some hockey critics.
Doug Weight of the New York Islanders was the last man back on the play Oct. 25. He and Carolina’s Sutter were rushing to the loose puck and a collision was inevitable. If Weight pulls up, he risks giving Sutter a breakaway and is certainly criticized by Islanders fans.
Eager to poke the puck forward and hop around Weight for a scoring chance, Sutter mis-timed his move and put his head in a vulnerable position before the impending collision. The hit was just part of the game.
That’s why it’s sad to hear some hockey observers criticize the NHL for not making a stand against head shots. Watch the incident and ask yourself what Weight could have done differently.
The only rule change that could have prevented this collision is to eliminate hitting from the game and that’s a preposterous notion. A no-hitting rule would have forced Weight to jump out of the way at the last second (which would have turned this hockey game into a figure skating competition) or fall to the ice and poke the puck away (and probably take an off-balance Sutter down with him.)
Weight also could have immediately gone into a defensive posture and faced Sutter as the lone defender on a 1-on-1. (He surely would have been the ridicule of the Carolina bench for this.) But that’s not hockey. Players are allowed to make contact and hit in hockey.
And that’s the whole problem with the proposed anti-head shot movement called for by hockey critics. A player six-foot tall bends over to skate and has his head about five feet off the ice. When he reaches for a loose puck, his head lowers to about four feet off the ice. It’s only natural to expect a shoulder to hit a head during the regular collisions in a game – like what happened to Sutter.
It’s not fair to penalize innocent victims like Weight. He surely feels bad enough for the result of this incident.
So don’t go telling the NHL to alter its rules or stamp out hitting. Change your rant to the tightening of helmet chin straps or the softening of shoulder and elbow pads. Those are legitimate options to cut down on concussions without changing the fabric of hockey.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.
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