NHL Roundup: Player Safety

In any game, rules are arguably the most important aspect for maintaining the safety and interest for both the participants and the prospectors of that game. However, when these critical rules blur the line between safety and vulnerability, the overall integrity and fascination in that game is lost. This issue has been a crucial argument within the NHL, especially during the last decade. Although the NHL has taken serious precautions to eliminate injuries and protect players both on and off the ice, I believe they have not done all they can to eradicate these vicious injustices. But before everyone breaks out their “I Hate Brendan Shanahan” t-shirts, it is important to note the progressive changes that the NHL and NHLPA have made toward creating a safer environment for its players.

Marc Staal takes a puck to the face during the ’12-’13 season. This incident is one of the main reasons visors become mandatory throughout the league.

Last season, the NHL and NHLPA introduced hybrid icing, in which the official uses his discretion to determine whether or not the puck, once iced, will cross the goal line before the defender can reach it. If he believes there is no chance in the reaching the puck, the play is blown dead. This rule was designed not only to slow the game down, but also to prevent serious injury due to the risk of potentially dangerous collisions. Other rule changes include the mandatory use of visors, banning the removal of helmets, and the expansion of the trapezoid.

Although the NHL and NHLPA have taken measures to try to reduce the amount of injuries to players, they have not done enough to punish certain players for their unruly behavior. While the sole role of “the enforcer” is becoming a dying trend within the NHL due to the increased skill and speed of the game, some players continue to take liberties that are not acceptable and have earned themselves an infamous reputation. Now that the last names Cooke, Bertuzzi, and Scott have become household names synonymous with “monster”, “killer”, and ”beast”, something within this league has to change if it wants to maintain the fascination that it deserves.

In Lito Tejada-Flores’ Games Climbers Play, rules are necessary to ensure the safety of those participating, but are open to change to create a more protective environment for its participants. Tejada-Flores states rules “stake out the possible directions for the evolution” of the game. I believe the NHL can take a lesson from this and take more serious steps in abolishing serious injuries. Although many do not want to see the game of hockey change, some changes are necessary to protect the welfare of its players. Many injuries are just too horrible to forget.

New Jersey Devil Scott Stevens crushes Philadelphia Flyer Eric Lindros during the ’99-’00 NHL season.

Some of the most notorious injuries in recent years include that of Scott Stevens on Eric Lindros, Matt Cooke on Marc Savard, and Raffi Torres on Marian Hossa. Not only have these injuries incurred criticism in the media, but have discouraged viewers, especially in America. Hockey is such a wonderful sport, filled with excitement, intense rivalry and exquisite skill. This game cannot and should not be compromised by a lack of control within the players and the league in general.

Although most fans of this incredible sport are passionate about the way the game is played and don’t want to see a change, some rule revisions are necessary to keep the integrity of the game alive. With the season fast approaching, I hope the NHL can make the appropriate adjustments to create a safer environment for its valuable players.