Pittsburgh's Eric Tangradi sustained a concussion after being hit and punched by the Islanders' Trevor Gillies and hasn't returned to the lineup since. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
As a 26-year veteran of National Hockey League scouting staffs and a life-long hockey “addict” I am naturally concerned about the recent controversy surrounding head shots. As a lawyer for 35 years, I am likely more conscious of the power of wording than some other fans. It is neither my role nor my intention to delve into the specific incidents that have given rise to the recent controversies. I am confident all of the parties involved are employing their abilities to do what is in the best interests of our great game.
What I would like to do is offer my suggestion to temper the emotions of the public debate and facilitate a more rational discussion. My suggestion is very simple: Substitute one word for another. Remove all references to the word “violent” and replace them with the word “dangerous.” It is my belief this simple change will allow all parties in the debate to appreciate the other positions. Hopefully, it will increase the chances of reaching a consensus acceptable to those with divergent points of view.
Violence implies unregulated mayhem. Recent media articles and presentations have connected the well-documented incidents of the past few months with some of the sorriest episodes in hockey history. Pictures are shown of vicious stick fights, intentional clubbings and unsuspecting players being jumped from behind by opponents and pounded to the ice. Even those of us who love the sport dearly are forced to acknowledge these incidents depicted from previous times are definitely prime examples of hockey “violence.”
Fortunately, the most recent incidents are of a vastly different nature. By any objective standards, they cannot be equated with the “violent” incidents of the past. If some of those past incidents took place today in the more highly regulated NHL, the perpetrators would be looking at unprecedented disciplinary action. They would also, in all likelihood, encounter the intervention of criminal courts.
I am not attempting to twist people's arms into accepting the actions of any of the parties concerned in the recent events. I am attempting to bring a sharper focus to the debate. These recent incidents do not meet my definition of “violent,” but that does not mean they are any less “dangerous.” That should be the relevant point in the discussion. Players must have safe working conditions, fans want to see all of their favorite players healthy and owners want to please their fans and sponsors by presenting a product with all of its attractive pieces in place. Everyone involved in this discussion finds the situation unacceptable if a number of players are on the sidelines and unable to perform.
All of us who love hockey must be prepared to adjust to changing circumstances as the game evolves. Matters once considered acceptable - or, for that that matter, not even considered - may no longer be acceptable because they have become too “dangerous.” This does not imply some moral defect on the part of people for being “violent.” Rather, it simply means changes must be made to our long held way of doing things in order to adapt to different conditions.
I am very pleased to hear the divergent background of some of the people who will be investigating this matter for the NHL. An open-minded approach will be required on the part of all parties concerned. All areas that may play a role in the “danger” issue must be addressed - they are all important. The mindset of the players and the equipment they wear, the approach of the teams, the setup of the rink, the wording of the rules and their means of enforcement all come to mind. There are no easy, dogmatic solutions. Practicality is crucial.
Passion for hockey is very high among its fans. This is good for the game. What is often overlooked in recent discussions is the NHL has a pretty good track record of making radical changes to the playing rules and their means of enforcement. The product is now more attractive than it has ever been. Now if it can become less “dangerous” all hockey fans should be pleased.
Tom Thompson worked as head scout for the Minnesota Wild from 1999-2001 and was promoted to assistant GM in 2002, a post he held until 2010. He has also worked as a scout for the Calgary Flames, where he earned a Stanley Cup ring in 1989. He currently works as a scout for the New York Rangers. He will be blogging for THN.com this season.