By Dan Bernstein–
After a couple days of double-talk and phony-baloney posturing to mollify fans and sponsors, the decision-makers at the NHL’s GM meetings refused to ban the hits to the head that are causing a frightening number of concussions.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and the collection of players-turned-executives tinkered around the margins, while the elephant wandered around the room with its gloves dropped.
We eventually heard the toothless proclamations of stricter enforcement of existing rules, better diagnosis, and standardization of the safest equipment and rink construction.
Recommendations will be made for future study, a committee of former players will talk things over, the Board of Governors will take things under advisement, etc., etc., harrumph.
Two GMs’ comments to the AP spoke volumes.
“The consensus is that the rules in the book are sufficient,” Toronto’s Brian Burke said.
“It would take a lot of hitting out of the game,” Said Bryan Murray of Ottawa. “A lot of the physical part of the game that makes our game so appealing.”
The elephant was right behind him as he spoke, yet nobody wanted to mention it.
Everyone involved with the halfhearted efforts to protect players from injury is aware that the NHL is quickly placing itself in an indefensible position when it comes to the acceptance of fighting. It simply makes no sense to any reasonable person that the two facts can coexist: there is concern about hits to the head in hockey, but not about hitting each other in the head.
Even the league itself estimates that eight percent of this year’s concussions have resulted directly from fights. Celebrated goon Bob Probert was recently found to have had degenerative brain disease from repeated blows to the head in his hundreds of on-ice bouts.
It would seem to be an easy number of concussions and sub-concussive head blows to eliminate, if you really cared.
They say they do, aware that megastar Sidney Crosby may never be the same, cover-your-eyes video of violent shots like the one on Max Pacioretty are shared virally in an instant, and that any player could be the next Paul Kariya or Adam Deadmarsh.
Yet fights continue, still serving no purpose other than to sell violence. Any convoluted attempts at justifying their existence are easily dismantled, particularly the silly idea that fighting is needed for the vigilante self-policing of otherwise-uncontrollable, animal behavior.
And fighting can’t be important for the protection of supposedly defenseless skill players when so many of them are hurt so often, regardless. In today’s high-velocity NHL, a legal smack against the glass is more likely to take out a scorer than a wayward blade from some battle-scarred oaf from Saskatoon.
Video captures everything. Anybody so emboldened to play dirty by the removal of the retaliatory threat would soon realize the fines and suspensions are coming, harder, faster, and more painfully than any bare fist.
Lose fighting, and you lose a bunch of concussions with no effect on the quality of the game.
The league knows this well, but lacks the guts or desire to act on it.
They can’t ban hits to the head, because then some other questions will be asked – questions for which they have no good answers.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
Listen to The Boers and Bernstein Show podcasts >>