Hockey fans know violence. Big hits, fights, and hard shots are a part of the game, and many times the reason that fans love it. With the information that is now known about concussions and how they affect the brain, many fans have questioned if the sport of hockey has become too violent.Today, many SBNation hockey blogs are posting various opinions on concussions in the NHL. Whether you think the NHL should crack down on hits to the head, that players are responsible for their own safety, injury risk is part of the game, fights should be banned, or anything in-between, there will be something for you today. There will also be feature stories on players that have had major concussion issues. Make sure to visit all of the sites taking part, and put your critical thinking caps on. Some sites will be posting multiple articles throughout the day (Hockey Wilderness has 6 alone!), so make sure you stop back throughout the day.
Habs Eyes on the Prize (Montreal Canadians)- www.habseyesontheprize.com
Two different hits, two different outcomes to the victims of the hits, both of them having a devastating result on the fortunes of the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs. Willie Mitchell getting taken into the boards from behind by Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the following season Chicago’s Duncan Keith elbowing Daniel Sedin in the face had an impact on the teams’ performance later that spring. While this is not to say it’s the only reason, the absences of these players, and in Mitchell’s case the inability for someone on the roster to fill the role he played on the team was noticeable. Both hits had one other thing in common: a seemingly light punishment given the infraction. It’s difficult to compare the two hits directly because they’re so different, but we’ll examine them, the effect on the player and the aftermath.
In Mitchell’s case, the Canucks were in the 3rd period of a game they had well in hand, leading the Penguins 6-2. Mitchell was engaged with Sidney Crosby beside the Canucks net when Malkin hits Mitchell from behind, causing him to hit the boards head first.
While Mitchell was able to skate off on his own power, he did not return to action for the Canucks that year. That year’s playoff run was highlighted by a 2nd round meltdown against Chicago, that saw Blackhawks players like Dustin Byfuglien go to the net virtually unimpeded. Given the physical element Mitchell brings to the game, it’s fair to say his presence might have made a difference in that series.
Mitchell went on to blast the league and specifically NHL disciplinarian at the time, Colin Campbell for not doling out any punishment whatsoever to Malkin. The Canucks didn’t even get a power play on the hit, as the on-ice officials sent Tanner Glass off for trying to get at Malkin for the hit. Mitchell’s recovery took months, and he would sign with Los Angeles as a free agent.
Daniel Sedin’s concussion was much different in that he made, by comparison a speedy recovery. He missed a total of 12 games: the final 9 of the regular season , as well as the first 3 of their series against the Los Angeles Kings. The impact is obvious. The Canucks were without their best player and top scorer, and despite his return, lost that series. Once again, not the only reason they lost, but his presence was again sorely missed as the Canucks struggled to score.
There are some who would say that Duncan Keith’s 5 game suspension for the hit was just, especially considering Daniel Sedin had gotten away with what appeared to be a headshot on Keith earlier in the game. While I believe Sedin deserved a penalty for that hit, which the officials missed, it’s not like Sedin has a history of making dangerous, dirty hits. And that is why 5 games for Keith was so frustrating, because he was referred to as a first offender in this situation. A quick check of youtube shows you that once again, Colin Campbell’s lax and puzzling decisions on dangerous hits involving star players are to blame for Keith not being labelled as a repeat offender. Matt Cooke, Ruslan Salei, and Jamie Benn were all victims of hits that could easily have been suspendable by Keith. Check out the hit on Detroit's Ruslan Salei in particular. That elbow looks vaguely familiar.
The NHL has tried to implement measures to remove dirty hits from the game, and one can look at the 21 game suspension of Raffi Torres as proof of that. But Keith’s slap on the wrist for an ugly, premeditated hit that was far more egregious a foul than the hit of Torres (leaping elbow directly to the face of a player looking at the puck versus an open ice body check that would have been legal had Torres not left his feet), allowing him a rest before the playoffs began was proof that Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety still have miles to go in ensuring these types of hits are met with punishments that are actually deterrents. Both hits rang a familiar tune for Canucks fans, as it recalled Steve Moore’s unpunished hit on (at the time) NHL scoring leader Markus Naslund. Fortunately the Canucks didn’t respond to either hit the way they did with Moore’s, something else the league must be mindful of in the future. The potential was there in the recent game between Chicago and Phoenix as they faced Raffi Torres for the first time since his hit on Marian Hossa, and while Torres fought Jamal Mayers twice, the Blackhawks focused on getting their revenge on the scoreboard instead, much like the Canucks tried to do when they faced Keith and the Blackhawks for the first time.
The sad thing is that even with the Torres punishment, you still get the feeling by watching the game that the deterrent really isn't there. That's not to say it's easy to do Shanahan's job by any stretch. The speed that the game is played at makes some of these hits so difficult to rule on even with technological advances. Stiffer penalties and fines, and ensuring there's no illusion of double standard for star players is something that is needed to ensure the NHL and it's players can try to avoid more of these situations going forward.