David Booth lies on the ice after being hit in the head by Mike Richards earlier this season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
The NHL’s public relations department has taken to hyping up next week’s GMs meetings in a way they never have before, referring to the two-day clambake as a “Meeting of the Minds.”
“The stewards of the NHL game come together Tuesday and Wednesday Nov. 10 and 11 at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle,” the release gushed, “to discuss the state of the game and perhaps plant the seeds for trade talks that might bear fruit later in the season.”
Well then I, for one, can hardly wait for next Tuesday!
I’d probably be even more excited if I thought the GMs were going to seriously tackle some of the issues that so desperately need to be addressed, but if recent history is any indication, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for change among this group.
Let’s take head shots for example. There simply is not a more pressing issue when it comes to the on-ice product than the alarming number of players who are getting hurt because of physical contact. The season-long suspension to Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas has highlighted the issue of reckless hits once again, but reaction from the hockey establishment has not exactly provided an endorsement for Ontario League commissioner David Branch’s decision.
Every time these people meet, we hear there is absolutely no appetite to deal with this issue. Generally speaking, GMs feel that a head shot rule or any attempt to deal with reckless hits will take the physicality out of the game. But why does it have to be one or the other all the time with these guys?
To be sure, the issue deserves more attention than it has received because the Liambas hit on Ben Fanelli, which some would argue you see almost once a game, is not going anywhere. A season-long suspension to an overage player in a junior league isn’t going to change that one bit, particularly at the NHL level where the stakes are enormously high and the difference between playing in the NHL and the minors will dictate whether or not a player can set himself up for life or have to continue working beyond his hockey-playing usefulness.
What I would like to see the GMs do is one of two things. Either declare unequivocally that the game is fine just as it is and that the hits we’re seeing now are a necessary occupational hazard, or strike a committee consisting of a cross-section of GMs to seriously study the issue from every angle and be charged with reporting back to the GMs in the next six months with its recommendations.
If the league and those who run it want to keep things status quo and live with the consequences of players getting hurt, that’s their prerogative and I have no doubt they’ll act in what they think are the best interests of the game and players. But it’s time for the most influential group of men in hockey to deal with this issue once and for all.
And while they’re at it, they might want to discuss the ridiculous strategy of players having to fight every time they lay out their opponent with a clean hit. If you want to keep hitting in the game, then perhaps it would be wise to seriously penalize players who take umbrage with something that is part of the game.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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