Monday, April 16, 2007

Legal Hits to the Head Aren't the Problem

Yuppie alert. Roy MacGregor, from the Globe and Mail, is the latest to step up and save the NHL from the physical contact that has defined the game for decades. Get in line Damian Cox disciple. You have a long journey in front of you... one that leads you to Nowhereville.

Some drivel:
At 9 minutes 4 seconds of the second period, 22-year-old Patrick Eaves of Calgary rounded the back of the Pittsburgh net with the puck not quite under control, his head slightly bowed as he looked to see who was trying to catch him from behind. As Eaves came past the post, the shoulder of 24-year-old Colby Armstrong of Lloydminster, Sask., arrived at exactly the same time. The hard pad of the taller Pittsburgh forward slammed into the head of Eaves, who went down as if he had been dropped from the rafters.

But no, no one but a concerned referee, a team captain and the team doctor seemed much interested in whether Eaves was in trouble.

There was something far more important going on: a fistfight.

Ottawa's Dean McAmmond and Pittsburgh's Maxim Talbot were busy in the dance that, some say, is the entertainment potential fans wish to see in this game and others argue is the funeral dirge professional hockey is increasingly marching toward. They danced and then, for a while, they slugged away. And then, as always happens, one slipped and went down and the other claimed his meaningless victory.

There was no penalty on the play for Armstrong, who delivered the hit. Under today's hockey rules, there probably should not have been.

But what is to say today's hockey rules are right?

Yes, accidental hits to the head will happen. Obviously they will in such a fast and physical game as hockey. "And what are you going to do about it, then?" someone in the press box asks.

Simple, you still penalize the player who delivers the hit. If I accidentally shoot the puck over the boards in my own end, I get a penalty. If I accidentally clip you and cut you with my stick, I get a penalty.

So it needs to be with head hits.
A couple of things stand out from MacGregor's words. To start with, Roy refers to the McAmmond/Talbot fight as meaningless. What Roy doesn't "get" is that there are two options for the NHL in policing hits to the head... penalties/suspensions or players policing these types of hits. McAmmond stuck up for his fallen teammate and went after Armstrong, only to find a more willing combatant in Talbot. What McAmmond did actually couldn't have been any more meaningful. And while Roy will complain about hits to the head not being penalized, he also wants to remove the only true deterrent to these hits as well.

Another thing Roy fails to mention is that Eaves was skating with his head down, instead referring to Eaves' head as "slightly bowed." What is rule #1 Roy? That's right... keep your head up. Eave's head wasn't slightly bowed. It was down. And he paid the price. The hit was so clean that Senators coach, Brian Murray, said he was fine it. I guess that's not good enough, eh Roy?

And yet another point. Pointing out that other league's penalize hits to the head and not diving into the details of those penalties is all too convenient. And when Roy says "other leagues" let's get right to the point... the NFL. When you dive deeper, you will see that the NFL and NHL deal with hits to the head quite similarly. Both designate legal and illegal hits to the head. In the NHL, there were a number of major penalties that deal with hits to the head... charging, boarding, elbowing, high sticking, etc. In the NFL, illegal hits to the head garner an intentional foul penalty. In both leagues, it is the referees discretion as to whether or not the hit to the head was legal or illegal. In almost every play in the NFL, there is some sort of hit to the head... a linebacker hitting a running back for instance. Those are normal plays that happen frequently during the course of the game.

NFL referees typically reserve calling penalties involving hits to the head for occurrences in which a player jumps at another players head to cause injury or goes out of their way to hit another player. Sound familiar? The NHL calls their game the same way. The only real difference is that the NFL is trying to eliminate helmet to helmet hits, a problem the NHL doesn't have.

Roy MacGregor listen closely. Legal hits to the head are just that... legal. They are not going to be penalized. Fights, too, serve a higher purpose than how you characterize them. If you want someone to listen to you while atop your soap box, write an article about players keeping their heads up. Then... someone might take you seriously.


Anonymous said...

You have to wonder if some of these guys write these articles for attention. I, personally, am not a believer that ANY press is good press. Damian Cox and his followers have very little clue about the physical side of hockey. The other thing that is funny is that they claim that playoff hockey is fast, intense, etc., basically great hockey, without the fighting. In reality, we have seen great hockey, but it has most certainly included LOTS of cheap hits and a few good fights.


1) The Eaves hit was totaly clean. As was written here, let the players take care of things on the ice. If Ottawa believes it needs to send a message to Armstrong then they can send Mr. McGratten on to the ice
2) Then Pitt can send Mr. Laroque to meet Mr. McGratten. Meanwhile we will all be VERY entertained!

Anonymous said...