It's a Start: GMs Take Stance Against Head Shots

It's certain that a lot of eyes collectively rolled earlier this afternoon when Colin Campbell announced that there would be no suspension for Matt Cooke, who sent Marc Savard to the hospital with a vicious hit to the head in this past weekend's game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Savard's Boston Bruins.

Whether Cooke ''intended'' to injure Savard and give him a second grade concussion, or whether he legitimately thought that he was going for a clean hockey hit that would have somehow had a positive effect on his team and the game doesn't even matter. Cooke injured a player, possibly for the season. Cooke made contact with Savard's head, sending him to the hospital. Why does there have to be an argument as to whether on not the hit was legally allowed under the current rules of the NHL or not?

It's a play that's detrimental to the game, both in the sense that a major NHL star is now on the shelf because of someone else's actions, and in the sense that it sets a precedent that states that players can get away with things based on the lingo of the NHL rule book and the CBA, whether that act of hitting a player in any fashion was intended to be malicious in any way. What Cooke did was wrong. As my blogging colleague Kyle Roussel was quick to point out, before Campbell's announcement just over an hour ago, Cooke isn't exactly the most innocent player in the league:

On the first, it sounds like he has no intention of punishing a hit that is currently deemed as legal. I guess he really can’t and shouldn’t try to invent punishments at random. But is there not a penalty for intent to injure? Cooke is a repeat offender, after all. You can make the strong case that he did precisely what he intended to do. At best, Campbell may give another slap on the wrist for hitting an opponent while defenseless. In the end, although Cooke is a repeat offender, he probably won’t be penalized very harshly, if at all. That’s pathetic, because there is no justification for letting those sorts of hits go unpunished.

There are plenty ''legal'' precedents you could use in banning Cooke, and Kyle managed to explain them in a paragraph that took 20 seconds to read. Yet Colin Campbell and the rest of the NHL brain trust would rather find reasons to defend Matt Cooke, and not Marc Savard, who is laying on a hospital bed with a grade 2 concussion, his NHL season, a mere 41 games short, possibly in the books already. The fact that Cooke will dress will dress for the Penguins in Tomorrow's game against the Carolina Hurricanes is, in fact, appalling.

Regardless of the specific rules of the NHL, is it not precedent enough that the league's General Managers have recommended a rule change to make this exact type of hit illegal? Sure, the rule would only take effect next season, if approved, but what does that change? Clearly, the league has FINALLY taken issue with a lot of hits to the head, and one of the main reasons for that is Matt Cooke and his actions this past Sunday.

It would be bitterly ironic if the NHL's board of governors ended up shooting this idea down in the off-season when it comes up for approval, but I don't think there's a single NHL fan that doesn't think it's a possibility. Gary Bettman, Colin Campbell, and the owners that employ their players and ask of them feats insurmountable by any normal man, when it comes to NHL success, care more about the immediate bottom line and preserving a tradition that has no place remaining in the league in 2010, than they care about the well-being of their players.

The NHL needs to take a long, hard look at the NFL. They need to take a long, hard look at the events that transpired there, and the reasons why they have now completely taken head shots out of their game. Has it been detrimental to their product? Has it hurt their popularity? Yet, for some reason, there are many in and around the league that believe that taking malicious, dangerous plays that affect the long term well-being of their players will somehow ''pussify'' the game of hockey.

Wake up, Gary, wake up Colin, the NHL is the 4th most-popular sport in North America, and despite strong ratings for the Olmypic Gold Medal game last week, won't be on their way up any time soon the way the league goes about it's business. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The NHL and NBC are perfect business partners. Destined for eternity to be number 4.

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

Anyone else think that's a little vague? Anyone else think that a lot of players will still be able to get away with a lot of the awful things they do? Yes, it's a start. Yes, people shouldn't expect much more from the hard-headedness of the NHL and it's upper management. But there is still a long way to go in the matter of protecting the players that put on a show for the fans 82+ games a season. It's going to take a lot more than ''not permitting'' a ''lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact'' to remedy this situation, and I hope that Gary and his friends see this.

The NHL has never been one to do things the easy way. They could very well just introduce a rule where any contact to the head is deemed illegal. They could very well make suspensions automatic for certain offenses, such as hits to the head. But for some odd reason, everything has to be dragged out and complicated. From the ongoing legal battle with Jerry Moyes in regards to the Phoenix Coyotes, to the other proposed rule of the day of making only regular season and OT wins count in the end-season tiebreaker (why not just award more points for those wins??), Gary Bettman has a way about him that just makes fans angry for legitimate reason.

I'll say it again, and this is something I would like to stress: today's announcements regarding new head shot rules is a start, and as we all know, everything has to start somewhere. But as hockey fans, as NHL fans, we can only hope that it is just the beginning for the NHL regarding this issue, and not just a quick fix to push this issue, once again, to the back burner.

Prax
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