Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Hits to the Head or Respect? Get it Right.

Enough of all of this “we need to eliminate hits to the head” talk. Unless you are adding something new, why even bring it up? Saying we need to eliminate hits to the head is like saying we need to implement touch up icing; both couldn’t be any more obvious.

So let’s cut to the chase and get to the two incidents that have caused all of this convenient and unoriginal talk. The hits to Tomas Kaberle and Chris Drury were very similar. And there are two elements that stand out in each hit; the part of the body used to deliver the blow and timing.

When it comes to the hits themselves, both were 100% clean. That is why I am confused as to why the hits to the head talk has been running so rampant. Both Chris Neil and Cam Janssen used their shoulders to hit their opponents. Neither jumped at the players they were about to hit. They simply used their speed and shoulder to level an opponent that had their head pointed in the wrong direction… down. On top of that, Chris Drury had his head down while skating across the neutral zone and he did not have his helmet buckled up properly. Simply put, he paid the price. Chris Neil’s hit was borderline late. But it was not dirty. And as unpolitcally correct as it is to say it, Chris Drury should be “shouldering” some of the blame here.

The Cam Janssen hit was similar to Neil’s. Janssen leveled Kaberle with an open ice hit, one that Kaberle saw coming and tried to duck, thus putting his head in line with Janssen’s shoulder. The similarities stop there. Janssen’s hit was late. Janssen went out of his way to run a player. That should not be condoned and Janssen was suspended accordingly by the league.

So if you want to add something original to these two hits, please stop talking about hits to the head. The hits to the head were a result of two players that had their heads down; both were caught with clean hits that were delivered at the shoulder. The real issue here is respect. Both hits were late and were delivered to opponents that were in a vulnerable position. If Cam Janssen had any respect for Tomas Kaberle, he would have held up from knocking his block off. The Terry O’Reilly story has been brought up occasionally as O’Reilly once said he had the chance to hit a vulnerable opponent, but let up out of respect. He then told the player at the next face off what he had did and that he wouldn’t hesitate to put him into the Boston stands on the next go-around if he wanted to skate around with his head down.

So where do you draw the line on respect? The game of hockey is physical and is played at break neck speeds. How simple is to hold up on a hit when it might be a millisecond too late? I’m not sure about that. The Neil hit is a perfect illustration and is a good reason why I didn’t include him with Janssen in the statement about respect. Is Neil a disrespectful punk because he didn’t let up on Drury? My thought is, he is not. And I can’t help but think that I am in the majority here because the Colin Campbell didn’t break out his suspension wand on this one.

But no matter which side you want to argue about the two hits that have given the NHL more attention that they have seen in two years (just ask Brett Hull), at least focus on the right topic. Hits to the head are bad for hockey (see Colton Orr crosschecking Alexander Ovechkin in the face). And no matter how you slice it, neither Cam Janssen nor Chris Neil are guilty of delivering improper hits to the head.

Update - It appears the NHL GMs will take another look at hits to the head at their next meeting. The last time the GMs met, they reviewed hits that were all declared legal by the league. Their unanimous conclusion was to leave the rules as is. I can't help but think this will be the case this time as well. Thanks to Kukla's Korner for the pointer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you nuts? Chris Neil is a gutless puke bag and anyone who doesn't think that can suck my right toe.