Avalanche blueliner Adam Foote is worried about the consequences of continuing to allow head shots. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Here’s the thing about deeply rooted mainstream viewpoints whose era has come and gone: they usually require a ton of chipping away at, from a wide array of people, over a sizeable stretch of time, before the crucial cracks in their core emerge and they become consigned to history’s dustbin.
That’s what is taking place in the debate about head shots in the NHL.
After Keith Primeau launched another shot across the bow of the hockey establishment over the NHL’s farcical disciplinary system, an equally respected, current NHLer underscored the point with a logic-laden assault that had player-endangerment proponents reaching for the smelling salts.
“There's more disrespect for the opponent than there ever was – and (the league) just (has) to be harsher on the suspensions,” veteran Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote told The Globe And Mail’s Eric Duhatschek. “If guys are going to (be suspended for) two games or three games, that's not enough. I worry now because of the speed, strength and size of the guys. Every year, they get bigger and stronger. If they keep hitting each other with more disrespect – from behind, when the guy is two feet from the board – someone's going to get seriously hurt and somebody's gotta be responsible for that.
“I just don't think it's going in the right direction. They've gotta clamp down on it, I think.”
Well, well, well. Harsher suspensions, you say? Sounds an awful lot like an argument some people have been making for some time.
I guess Foote must not understand guys who’ve played the game at such an advanced level. Or maybe he’s just a big tutu-wearing, Lilith Fair-loving, testosterone-challenged Sally who should’ve done us all a favor and invested his athleticism in figure skating instead.
Or maybe he was courageous enough to admit the truth.
In any case, it’s heartening to see this issue follow the same pattern as (a) the ridiculously long fight to induct females into the Hockey Hall of Fame; and (b) the 2005 obstruction crackdown that gave the game back to its best players.
In the latter controversy, I’m sure you’ll recall, any time someone – say, Brett Hull or Mario Lemieux – had the temerity to question the evolution of the sport, they were tsk-tsked and harrumphed into public acquiescence by the game’s gatekeepers.
But the problem didn’t go away. Instead, despite the obvious obfuscations of the NHL and its dependable apologists in the media, the problem got worse and worse, until the game became virtually un-watchable on too regular a basis. And it was rescued only when a player (Brendan Shanahan) finally stepped forth and took it upon himself to correct the course of the league.
The head shot issue is mirroring that course almost perfectly.
It picked up steam thanks to brave outcries from players such as Primeau and analysts/former coaches like Pierre McGuire.
It was met, at first, with much denial and consistently puny excuses from the NHL’s leadership community.
And now, as they see the carnage grow before their eyes and cripple the careers of young players before they’ve began, some of the league’s most decorated veterans are ready to do something about it – to take responsibility for it, as Foote said – when nobody else has the guts.
“It's like anything else,” Foote said in suggesting players would adapt to a head shot crackdown the same way they did to the obstruction crackdown. “If a coach takes your ice time away, you do what he says. To me, it's a very simple solution.”
Simple indeed. And destined to be implemented eventually, despite the dinosaurs and their dogma.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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