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Wendel Clark: NHL players think they’re invincible

Yesterday I talked about how the old ‘hockey code’ seemed to have disappeared from the NHL, after Edmonton Oilers coach Pat Quinn spoke on how he never worried about dangerous hits to the head in his playing days, when players didn’t even wear helmets.

Thanks to Chris Johnston and the Globe and Mail, we have some more thoughts from former players on how much the attitude in the NHL is changing.

“Very rarely you saw guys when I played get knocked out with bodychecks to the head,” said former NHL defenceman Bob McGill, who appeared in 705 games between 1981 and 1994. “It’s just funny how the guys today certainly don’t have any problems trying to take each other’s heads off. It’s a little disappointing because now you’re starting to see star players being knocked out for the course of the season. ...

“How long’s it going to take before it stops?”

“You think you’re invincible because you grow up with all this equipment,” said [former Toronto Maple Leafs Captain Wendel] Clark. “In the old days, you didn’t grow up with facemasks and shoulder pads and elbow pads like you see today. The better equipment you wear, the more fearless you play.

“Football and hockey have the same (issue) -- the better equipment you’re wearing the faster you can go into the corner because you know you’re not going to hurt yourself.”

The equipment issue, along with the competitive nature of sports these days, is what has me concerned the most. Players just don’t realize the damage they’re capable of. Players in the NHL are also getting paid a lot of money to perform at the highest level possible, and not only that but to win at all costs. Clark later makes a great point that not performing will get you sent down to the AHL, where most players with two-way contracts will see their salaries drop precipitously.

This isn’t something that will change overnight. Instituting a couple of new rules won’t change anything, other than actually having rules in place for dangerous hits that should have always been illegal.

You can’t tell me that hockey can’t be safe and entertaining at the same time. I watched the Olympics; that was some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen -- and played on an NHL regulation rink.