The pace of reform on the so-called “head hit” has been glacial, to say the least. No matter what the poo-bahs at NHL Central say, it’s easy to see why.
Rewind a bit: Remember when Scott Stevens took out Eric Lindros with that brutal head check that was probably the nail in the coffin to Lindros’ career? Who was the “criminal” and who the “victim” in that exchange? How about Mike Richards and David Booth? Matt Cooke and Marc Savard?
Give up? Well, the “criminals” were the guys busily getting separated from consciousness. Their punishment was for the crime of having their head down or turned away from the aggressor. Got that? Since I can remember, the “code” of the hockey world has actively supported a very penal response to this most heinous indiscretion.
The guys administering the “punishment” have been lionized as gladiators and “hard nose” warrior-types, as opposed to lurking ambush artists. Hockey has to be the only “manly” activity on the planet to elevate the surprise attacker to the status of heroic icon.
All of the hits mentioned above (and dozens like them), regardless of the consequences to the recipient, have been deemed “legal”. What does it take to qualify for this label? Well, as long as you don’t leave your feet or aim for the head as a starting point, you’re OK to fire away. You don’t even have to try to make a play on the puck! How’s that for easy?
The NHL Governors have proposed a (possible) two or five minute penalty for “A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit” with the possibility of supplemental discipline (on review). While the goons of the NHL are already breathing a sigh of relief, it’s possible even this limp wristed response will not even make it past the Competition Committee.
Three things have to change in order to “solve” this problem:
1) Blindside ambush artists have to be identified for the cowardly creeps they are;
2) Consequences for (intentional) hits on a completely unsuspecting player have to be severe;
3) Permitted physical contact should be restricted to actively trying to gain control or possession of the puck.
First and foremost, it must be made clear who the bad guys in these exchanges really are.