NHL rules debate leaves Crosby on the sidelines

No one ever accused the National Hockey League of being pro-active. On anything. If the NHL was in charge of the fight against cancer, it would still be debating whether dying prematurely was an issue worth addressing.

A week or so ago, the league got much pre-season attention when it held a camp in Toronto to evaluate a few possible tweaks to the rules. Maybe nets should be shallower, so players had more room to manoeuvre and could score more often on the wraparound.

Maybe a green line should be painted inside the goal to make it easier to judge when pucks had fully entered the net. Maybe penalized players should have to serve out the full two minutes, producing more short-handed goals (and ensuring a lot less suspense in the game).

Fiddle fiddle fiddle. If the NHL fiddles much more, it will have to shift league headquarters to Nova Scotia. Or maybe to Cole Harbour, where the fiddlers could spend that much more time ignoring the fact that the best player in the game hasn’t actually suited up for a match since last January, and looks unlikely to do so for some time yet.

Why? Because Sidney Crosby’s head hurts. It’s been hurting since he was nailed twice with hits to the head in games a few days apart. The pain results from concussion, and, despite plenty of rest and a sea of specialists, the symptoms keep returning. His agent said this week there’s no guarantee he’ll turn up for training camp.

Is the NHL making serious efforts to address the issue? Nah. That might affect the integrity of the game. Oh, it’s fiddling a lot.  No blind-side hits to the head.  Shaken-up players have to cool off  for 15 minutes before they can return to the ice. Trainers can’t just ask them to count the fingers before sending them back over the boards.

Because, you see, the NHL has statistics. At its big general managers’ meeting in March they spent a whole morning talking about it. As the league’s web site noted:

… according to data compiled and studied by the NHL’s Hockey Operations department and delivered to the general managers, there is not empirical data to back up any suggestion that concussions and resulting lost man-games are on the rise due to illegal hits to the head.

In fact, the majority of the concussions in the 2010-11 season to date have come from legal hits or accidental contact. Forty-four percent of the concussions this season have been the result of legal hits to the head or body, while another 26 percent have come when players were struck accidentally, either colliding with another player, being struck by the puck or tripping or falling and making head contact with the ice surface or the boards.

See? The hits were legal, so there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If they were illegal, that might be different, but they weren’t. Because hits to the head are legal. OK, that’s done, what’s next on the agenda?

Now, you might ask, why not make them illegal? Which shows what you know. It’s Canada’s national game,  ninny. It’s supposed to be rough. If it wasn’t rough, people wouldn’t watch. And you can’t have a rough game without people getting smashed in the head, everyone knows that.

Which is just too bad for Sidney Crosby. Oh, it’s also bad for the NHL, since Crosby brought it so much attention and revenue.  That’s true. But they have a plan. Paint a green line inside the goal, and everyone will flock to the games.

And you thought they weren’t on top of the situation.


George Prax's picture

Couldn't agree with you more. I don't understand why the NHL doesn't see that this isn't helping them in the slightest. You'd think losing their biggest star since Gretzky, possibly ever, would finally be their wake-up call, but apparently not.