It’s been about 11 months since hockey fans have seen the NHL’s best player Sidney Crosby play. With his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins Lineup tonight versus the New York Islanders. I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the changes, if any, the NHL has made to protect players since the beginning of January.
On January 1, 2011 Sidney Crosby was blindsided by a hit from the Washington Capital’s forward, David Steckel and was followed by a nasty crosscheck into the boards by Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen, Victor Hedman. Sidney has not played since. I asked a long time NHL official who officiated the Winter Classic, Paul Devorski about what he saw in regards to the hit on Crosby. He said, “I saw it at a glance from the other side of the rink. In between periods we talked about plays and hits and we all thought that the Crosby hit was a collision, where the two players ran into each other. I was surprised to learn that Sidney was as hurt as he was.”
A good friend of mine, who asked not to be named, suggested a remedy to help the NHL officials on the ice by having a NHL official in the “Press Box” or somewhere he has a bird’s eye view of the play. Someone that could watch the “behind the play” happenings. If he sees a questionable play in a certain time frame he can buzz the head on ice official and tell him what he saw from above. The thought is that players would be less likely to do something when they believe someone is watching from above. This would also allow the on ice referees to concentrate more on what is happening in the main field of play.
Over the summer the NHL did change the wording on boarding and illegal checks to the head to allow referees more leeway in making calls.
New wording of Rule 41 – Boarding
41.1 Boarding –
A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the referees when applying this rule.
Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious “icing” or “off-side” play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is “boarding” and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as “charging.”
New Wording of Rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head
48.1 Illegal Check To The Head
– A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was unavoidable, can be considered.
48.2 Minor Penalty
– For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.
48.3 Major Penalty
– There is no provision for a major penalty for this rule.
48.4 Game Misconduct
– There is no provision for a game misconduct for this rule.
48.5 Match Penalty
– The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.
If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion. (via NHL.
Some feel the NHL could do even more to protect the players.
Steve Reich NHLPA Certified Agent and partner in O2K Management told me about a couple of equipment modifications he thinks would help make the game safer “From a equipment standpoint, improvement of the helmet is a big issue, I would also like to see the elbow and shoulder pads softened up so they offer protection but are less weapon like.”
Steve also thought a few rule changes should be in order. “I do like the rule change that allows the two line pass because it has added speed and excitement to the game and that outweights whatever risks that have resulted. The opposite is true for automatic icing where the risks outweigh the benefit so I would like that to be instituted. In other words, keep the two line pass and institute automatic icing. As for fighting, it is a controversial and complex issue, so I am going to punt now. As with all elements of the game, it needs to continue to be monitored and evaluated and I will leave it to the Players Association and the League to figure it out!”
Steve Reich also went on to say, “In general, I would say that we have made some great strides in the areas of player safety, especially the recognition and treatment of head injuries. Two local Doctors, Lovell and Collins, have been at the forefront of the issue, and should be a great source of pride for Pittsburghers”.
Others may well think players can still police themselves. When I asked Riley Cote, former Philadelphia Flyer and current Assistant Coach to the Adirondack Phantoms, why he thought Flyer fans boo Sidney Crosby. He said, “He’s obviously one of the game’s greatest players, but he plays the system and is protected by the rules. It is like he is untouchable. Look at Ovechkin. Knock him down and he’ll get up and run your ass over. No dramatic side show BS.”
Tonight, when Sidney Crosby actually comes back, I hope he plays the “system”, the new “system”. Even though the NHL always has room to improve in the player safety area, I believe it has a better emphasis on player safety. If the NHL had that same emphasis on player safety years ago, then players like: Eric Lindros, Pat Lafontaine, and Paul Kariya would have had longer careers.