The NHL Is Losing Its Brains

5 years ago

Because they’re all getting smashed in to a pulp against the boards.

I’m telling you, [NHL exec] Brendan Shanahan has got to feel cursed. Here he is, with the highest TV ratings of a playoff round in years. The US audience is actually tuned in for a change. And yet at the same time, every single night his iPhone lights up with 10,724 voice mails, texts and twitter messages about yet ANOTHER player getting floored by yet ANOTHER dirty head shot.

Hope he has a flat rate for texting, is all I can say.

Every day since the playoffs began, it seems, he’s had to decide on an “appropriate” discipline for the latest clown to shove an elbow in to someone’s eye socket. And frankly, can I just say I really don’t get it? How hard is it NOT to clobber someone in the head?  Everyone has a head. They’re all roughly in the same place. Hitting them is bad. This is universally acknowledged. And yet for some reason, guys in the NHL keep targeting opposing players’ heads like they’ve never seen one before. Shit, how’d that get there?! I didn’t see it, I swear!

photo credit: michaelrighi via photo pin cc

So the first skanky headshot in the playoffs received a $2500 fine, which the average NHL player has in quarters in the armrest of their car. This, as far as a disciplinary measure goes, is the equivalent of taking away a toddler’s bubble gum. And from then on, it’s been open season on the cranium. Of course, once attempted decapitation became the norm Shanahan started taking it seriously and handed out bans, but even then nobody took *him* seriously.  Then came Tuesday night, when Raffi Torres flattened Marian Hossa, Hossa who was nowhere near the puck, got nailed so hard he then got carted off the ice on a stretcher and sent directly to the hospital to determine whether or not his head was, in fact, severed from his torso. Having satisfied themselves that his head remained attached, however loosely, the doctors decided to send him home with a bottle of Advil and a warning to stay the hell home because that game’ll kill you.

And the way this week is going? I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does end up dead, or at least permanently maimed. And I’m not talking a lost tooth. As I type, we’re flipping back and forth between the Senators-Rangers and the Pens-Flyers games, and in the last 5 minutes of play two players have gone off the ice to the locker room for that “quiet” head exam to ensure their brains aren’t oozing out their ears after a head shot.

Look, I get it. Hockey is a contact sport. But it has its own strange rules. Hits to the head are supposedly bad. But they’ll give perpetrators every “out” they can to defend themselves.He MOVED his head at the last minute! He was ducked down too low! HE’S SHORT! SO HIT HIM IN THE HEAD!

Hossa’s attacker is currently “indefinitely suspended”, Shanatalk for “you can kiss this playoff series goodbye”. Which, GOOD, except he should kiss an entire SEASON goodbye. I’m serious. This shit is ruining the game, and more importantly it’s ruining people. How many shots to the head do you take before your brain just starts to not work properly anymore?  And what is it going to take to remove this crap from the game? It’s not cool. It doesn’t make it better to have the marquee players sidelined.

Torres is a repeat offender. He’s benched players before, and gotten away with a slap on the wrist. There’s got to be some kind of punishment with teeth. Say, if you injure a player from a Douchebag Head Shot, you’re out as long as they are. Or maybe some kind of “three strikes” law: One hit – OK, I’ll believe you, it was an accident, go sit in the corner for a game or two and think about what you’ve done. Two hits – You’re benched for long enough to make you wonder what life would be like if you actually had to get a real job. Three hits – you are out. You lose a year of your season.  Your name is off your locker, the arena ushers are officially told to shun you, you’re not even allowed to wear a T-shirt from the concession stand with the team logo on it until you’ve borne your shame long enough and learned how to play nice with the other children.  Something that will make these guys THINK about what they’re doing instead of just blindly throwing shoulder pads.

So, Shanny, listen. You need to take this shit seriously, or someone is going to die. It’s just a matter of time. If you want to eliminate hits to the head, you can’t pussyfoot around or split hairs about whether somebody ducked their head at the last minute or did a pirouette or didn’t really MEAN to do it. The head is off limits. It is always off limits. No exceptions. Don’t worry: they will all figure out a way keep physicality in the game without smashing someone’s head into a goddamn pulp. I guarantee it. If Matt Cooke can do it, anyone can.


Footnote: Raffi Torres received 25 games, the longest suspension in the history of the NHL playoffs. Will players take note? We'll see.


I write some more at zchamu dot com. Come visit. 

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