Thursday, March 08, 2007

Late Hits and Head Shots

So a couple of big hits in the past week or so have given rise to much hand-wringing about shoulder-to-head contact, and late hits. The first incident was Chris Neil blindsiding Chris Drury, sparking a huge brawl, including a goalie fight. Drury needed 20 stitches to close the cut, and suffered a concussion.

The second was Cam Janssen hitting Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle's head hit both the ice and the boards, and was carted off on a stretcher. Kaberle, who suffered a concussion, is out indefinitely.

I usually like John Buccigross, and appreciate his allegiance to hockey, one of the only SportsCenter anchors who seems to care, but I don't agree with his analysis exactly...

I don't understand why a shoulder pad to the head is not equivalent to an elbow to the head. This is a hit that needs to be outlawed in the NHL.
Bucci is he biggest Drury fanboy out there, so of course he feels this way. I too think the hit on Drury was dirty, but for a different reason. it was blindsided. Drury did not have the puck, had no reason to think he was being run, and had no means to defend himself. Same with the Kaberle hit, although that's a little more arguable. Janssen didn't even begin to initiate contact until well after Kaberle finished his pass. Kaberle wasn't anticipating the hit, and couldn't defend himself.

What we don't want is a shoulder-to-head review committee. What if Zdeno Chara hits Alex Tanguay? Or Scott Parker hits Martin St. Louis? The height different is so great that it'd be hard for it not to be a shoulder-to-head contact. That is not the problem. The real problem is the timing of the hits, and the position of the players. If it's well after the play, then it's a penalty. If it's blindsided, then it's a penalty. If the player is injured and misses time, then the offending player gets a suspension and hefty fine.

There's definitely an equipment component to all this as well. Most shoulder pads have hard plastic plates in them now, which can do more damage and even cut somebody. In many cases, illustrated in the Kaberle hit, players do not wear their helmets tightly, and they slip or fall off completely upon contact. This latter thing should be rectified immediately. If your helmet can slip out of position when you shake or nod your head violently, it should be an equipment violation. How much longer would have Pat LaFontaine's career been if he wore a good helmet all the time? He had a specially-made one late in his career, but the damage was already done.

If the league wants to ban hard plastic plates in shoulder pads, I'm ok with that too. The 'cleanest' NHL hit is a shoulder to the chest, or shoulder to shoulder. With players skating at upward of 30 mph sometimes, the contact point will move quickly. You can't leave your feet to make the hit, you can't run someone after the play, and you have to hit them so they can brace for the contact or defend themselves. Don't take contact out of hockey.

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