Saturday, March 26, 2011

Players are the Solution to NHL Headshot Problem

I am starting to get really fed up with all of this talk about head shots and concussions in the NHL.  There are two exciting playoff races going on in both the Eastern and Western conferences and all anybody can talk about is what to do to "make the game safer."  I understand it's an issue that needs to be dealt with but there is more to hockey then just head shots.  I mean is it too much to ask that Sports Center show the highlights first before going right to footage of the cheap shot du jour?

My real problem is that nobody is offering any real solutions on how to make the game safer or eliminate headshots.  Everyone just makes obvious statements like, "the guys are a lot bigger and the game is a lot faster."  No shit its called evolution and it's happening in every sport not just hockey.  Football is dealing with the same issues but you don't see the NFL Network running a series like Crisis on Ice? like Sportsnet did the other night.  These type of statements don't help anyone and simply make the discussion go around in circles without ever coming to a clear solution.

It's obvious that the new rules and sanctions put in place the NHL are not having an affect on the players as every night there is a headshot in at least one game in the NHL.  So why make your league look foolish by implementing new rules and having the players ignore them making it seem as though the league is a joke and has no real authority over the players?  Why continuously overshadow the game with meetings and conferences where nothing really gets done and people aren't happy with the result?

So I have taken it upon myself to come up with a possible solution to the current epidemic of concussions and headshots and it's so simple I am surprised no one has thought of it yet, and if they have they stole the idea from me.  Now it obviously isn't perfect and it would take a lot to make it happen but if you actually look at the issue its the only way to put an end to the debate once and for all.

What's the one thing current and former players constantly say when asked about outsiders commenting on concussions and headshots?  "They never played the game so they have no idea what they are talking about."  That's a valid point.  I have never played in the NHL so my opinion obviously doesn't carry much weight to the current players of the NHL.

And what's the one thing general managers, owners, fans and members of the media say when they make suggestions on how to fix the game? "It's all about player safety.  We need to ensure that our players can remain on the ice and not have to worry about getting killed out there."  Yet another valid point as fans, owners and general managers don't like it when their players get hurt.

So what's the common connection between both points?  The players.

If players are saying that people outside of the game should shut up because they don't know what they are talking about then obviously the solution to the problem needs to be created by the players.  If owners, general managers and fans want the players to be safer the only people that can actually ensure that the game is safe are the players themselves because really 'safe' is a relative term.  What you and I might consider safe may be completely different from what an NHL player considers safe.  Therefore the only way to put a stop to headshots or at least put a stop to the discussions on headshots are the players.

So here is my solution: at the end of the season gather all the members of the NHLPA and hold a conference discussing concussions and headshots.  Have every single player in the league there and make them sit down and lay out the ground rules for headshots and dealing with suspensions.  At the end of that conference have the players vote on how they would like to punish players or enforce theses new rules.  Whatever decision they come up with is final and cannot be changed by owners, general managers or even Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell.  This way if anything happens to the players the NHL can simply say, "they are the ones playing the game and they are the ones who created the punishments so if they don't like it they have no one to blame but themselves."

This may take away authority from the NHL slightly but really why should Colin Campbell be the one deciding what is right and wrong on the ice?  The players are the ones who are at risk and the ones that actually play the game so why does it not make sense that they have a say in how things are enforced?  A common statement that hockey pundits usually use is that 'hockey players enforce themselves on the ice by fighting guys that hit star players and things of that nature'.  So if that's true why not just make it official and let players enforce the game itself.

If you feel like that's giving too much power to the players then here is a slight compromise or a possible twist on this idea. Replace Colin Campbell with recently retired players and make up a small committee that will be in charge of handing out the punishments.  Get a group consisting of guys like Chris Chelios, Rob Blake, Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan, Joe Sakic and Scott Stevens.  Combined they have been involved in almost every scenario that could ever happen on the ice and they were all well rounded players with tones of knowledge about the game.  Let them decide how many games Matt Cooke should have gotten or whether or not he should still even be in the league.

Players have a different viewpoint than everyone else because they are the ones on the ice every day.  For example after the Chara/Paciaretty incident a lot of NHL players were asked about their thoughts on the hit.  About 90% of them said it was an accident and that Chara should not be suspended while fans, including myself, and media members wanted Chara to miss at least 1 game.  If the general consensus around the league is not to suspend him then who are we to argue

Hypothetical situation.  Let's say that the the players voted that any headshot of any kind result in a 1 game suspension. So even if it's a dirty hit the payer gets 1 game because that's what the players decided.  Then for arguments sake let's say Steve Ott goes out and just blatantly headshots Danny Heatley as retribution for that dirty elbow he received a week ago.  Under the rule created by the players Ott would receive a 1 game suspension and that's it.  He would no doubt be dealt with next time the two teams played but as far as suspensions go he would get his 1 game.  It wouldn't matter if it was deemed intentional or if Heatley got seriously hurt because that's the appropriate punishment the players voted for. 

Now no one on the Sharks could complain to the league or the media because they would look like hypocrites and pussies which is never a good look in the NHL.  Now the media wouldn't be able to turn the story into a fabricated epidemic and try and grab ratings off of a useless discussion.  The players could focus on the game and the NHL wouldn't have to constantly be answering questions about how they were going to deal with every hit.

Obviously this is a vastly flawed system and some people might take advantage of it but it would at least put an end to all of this annoying debate and discussion.  The NHL can go ahead and make up all sorts of new rules and sanctions about headshots and concussions all they want but unless the players make a change to the way they play then it's all for nothing.  It's up to the players to make the change.  So why not just simply the process and let the players make the new rules and go from there.  The league would avoid a lot of negative publicity and we could go back to talking about hockey instead of concussions.

Seems like a common sense win-win to me.

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