Are Headshots in Hockey Killing the Game?

Max Pacioretty with the hit on Letang which brought him a 3-game suspension

If a team could be made up of all the players who have been out this season or are out with concussions right now, there would be little doubt that they would be serious contenders for sports’ greatest prize, the Stanley Cup. So far this season the players that have been out with concussions; which include the best player in the National Hockey League, Sydney Crosby, the leader in points (at the time, when he was concussed) Claude Giroux, and the leader in goals (at the time, when he was concussed) Milan Michalek.

Concussions are becoming an epidemic in the NHL. The main reason for all these concussions is too many headshots which are obviously illegal. What really grinds my gears is the inconsistency in disciplinary actions towards players who commit the crime. This is undoubtedly a cause for concern. Both the players and refs are getting confused because they don’t know what’s right or wrong anymore.

Infractions that appeared similar in intensity and motive are receiving different disciplinary responses. That is just unacceptable. Some players with a history of dirty play appear to be suffering worse consequences than others. For example: On December 9th, the Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman Andy Sutton got an 8-game suspension and a fine of $200,000 for a dirty hit on the Carolina Hurricanes’ left winger, Alexei Ponikarovsky. Although it appeared deliberate, and it was a headshot, that punishment was way too extreme. Sutton likely got this massive punishment because of his tough guy reputation. However, on October 1st, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s left winger, Ryan Malone absolutely demolished the Habs’ defenseman, Chris Campoli with a headshot. It looked just as nasty as the one dished out by Sutton but there was no suspension, no major penalty and not even a minor penalty. In these two similar instances, giving Sutton 8 games and a fine for $200,000 and letting Ryan Malone off the hook is an absolute joke.

The NHL and its Senior Vice President of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan need to protect its players better. End of story. There’s too much grey area and too much inconsistency with these calls. The intent for reducing headshots in the NHL is good but the league has to make the disciplinary measures more black and white for the refs. We realize this isn’t an exact science as to what hits are acceptable and what hits deserve suspensions but the league has to get its act together regarding its disciplinary practices. This may take some time but hopefully they will get it right and ultimately we will see a dramatic reduction in headshots in the future.