Blind-Side Drive-Bys: An Issue that Must Come to a Head
For the record, hockey's high-octane speed and intensity has a place for hard contact.
And sometimes, it takes a fight to keep that contact honest. No argument here.
But lately, it seems that not even the specter of flying fists has stemmed the recent tide of rabbit checks, those hits to the head from behind that -- even in barfights -- are nothing short of cowardly.
Last night, hard-hitting Red Wing defenseman Niklas Kronwall found himself on the other end of the contact during Detroit's 4-2 victory in Colorado. The difference, though, is that the Swedish torpedo approaches his targets from the front, a fact that the Avalanche's brain-dead TV analyst failed to distinguish during his mind-numbingly stupid reaction to a rabbit check from Cody McLeod:
A key element in these ambushes is they happen near the glass, where a helmet will do little good when compressed between that and a high elbow or shoulder. Here's another incident from last Tuesday, where yet again, the third item to hit the ice -- after the target and a few gloves -- was a stretcher:
Yes, suspensions are surely coming. Most likely, they'll be similar to this incident, handed out earlier this month by the NHL's discipline doler, Brendan Shanahan, to serial offender Patrick Kaleta:
But even suspensions seem to fall short of changing behavior. This is more than ridiculous. It's a concern. Why, in light of a refreshing acknowledgement by all major sports that concussions are serious business, are we seeing a spate of them now?
Is it because the NHL's minimum salary -- $550,000 for 2013-2014 -- is the highest in sports? Are players so fixated on living the dream that their respect for each other is disappearing?
Whatever it is, something drastic needs to be done. The NHL poobahs allegedly understand health matters, and they certainly understand money matters. In the latter sense, fans pay good money to see the skills of a Boyle, Johnson, and Kronwall; these players shouldn't miss games with avoidable injuries. Goons like Lapierre, Kaleta, and McLeod are expendable.
In the former instance, the issue should be, literally, a no-brainer. It's time for them to stand up and be counted in a meaningful manner.
CBS.com's Brian Stubits may be on to a solution when he suggests extending financial punishment beyond fines to the offending player. Penalizing his team with salary cap hits and/or roster limitations would be drastic, but no more than the lasting damage of a serious concussion.
Fortunately, no former skater has become so tormented as to prematurely donate his brain to science, as has happened with NFL veterans. The NHL must escalate its policy regarding hits that cause head trauma, and do it immediately.