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The debate over head hits continues

Image (1) Booth3-thumb-250x83-7871.jpg for post 508

I don’t think the great David Simon could create drama quite like this.

On Thursday night the NHL and the NHLPA agree to institute a new ‘rule’ that gives the league the ability to actually punish for blind-sided hits to the head. The consensus was that this is at least a move in the right direction for the NHL, but there’s still concern over a number of other dangerous hits plaguing the NHL.

Such as the one that sent David Booth to the hospital for the second time in five months, on the exact same night the NHL put the new rule into effect. If you haven’t seen it (here’s the video) Booth gets rocked by Jaroslav Spacek as he entered the zone, as Spacek catches Booth looking down and slams him square in the chest. His shoulder also hit Booth squarely in the chin, knocking him out and to the ice. Again.

The hit was completely legal. There’s not even any debate about it.

Except now we have cries of “It’s not enough!” In the wake of last night’s devastating hit, now we get to talk about the merits of making any and all hits to the head illegal.

From Damien Cox of The Star:

But when bright young stars like Booth are being injured on these types of hits, is it really worth keeping those hits in the game?

Moreover, given that blindside and so-called “lateral” hits are now suspendable offences and by next season will earn a player an on-ice penalty as well, isn’t the next logical step to say you just cannot bodycheck an opponent in the head under any circumstances because the danger is just too real given the size and strength of the modern player and the fragility of the brain?

And we have this from Spacek after the game, per TSN:

“I tried to step up at the blue-line, he was kind of low and when he turned, I was right there,” said Spacek after the game. “I’m not a dirty player. It just happened. It was body on body. It’s too bad. You never want to see that.”

The issue is now over the whole “he should have kept his head down” mantra that’s pervasive with these sort of hits. The NHL, the players, and most everyone involved in the game insists that they cannot take these big open-ice hits out of the game since it’s such a vital part of the physicality of the game.

It’s possible for a hit like Spacek’s to be perfectly fine; if Booth was ducking, then Spacek’s shoulder most likely catches him square in the chest. So who is at fault? The player that doesn’t adjust his hit not to lay into the opposing player’s head, or the player who is skating with his head down, or ducks into a hit?

The NHL will never be able to make a determination on ‘purposeful hits to the head’ from the front, as there’s no way to say whether someone intended to lay shoulder into someone’s chin.

What about players that turn away from a check while on the boards, causing themselves to put in a vulnerable position and then be boarded? It happened twice last night in the San Jose and Dallas game. If all hits to the head are illegal, will we suddenly see players ducking down into hits? I know it sounds incredibly stupid, but I never would have thought NHL players would purposefully expose their back to a big hit along the boards either.

I don’t buy the thought that making all hits to the head illegal will suddenly make the NHL a league without big hits. The IIHF somehow manages to create fun and physical hockey with all head hits being illegal.

Now that the blindsided hits are illegal, we’re not going to see anymore of those. Instead, we’ll get a slew of clean, open ice hits from the front.

And we can just debate all season long all over again.