TORONTO - One season after being a central figure in the NHL's ongoing head shot debate, David Booth believes there's still more the league can do to protect players.
Booth, who scored one goal in regulation and the Florida Panthers’lone shootout goal in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night, was limited to just 28 games last year while battling concussion issues.
In October of 2009, he was caught on a blindside hit by Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards that went unpunished by the league. Booth returned after missing 45 games, but was sidelined again late in the year for nine more games after taking a clean hit from Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jaroslav Spacek.
The Richards blow was one of the catalysts for the NHL to amend the rules surrounding blindside hits, allowing referees to call a five-minute major penalty and the league to levy supplemental discipline.
But with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby currently out with concussion issues, the debate rages on as to whether more must be done to increase player safety.
Booth said he thinks the league is moving the right way, but believes the NHL will have to take things a step further in the future.
"Over time, I think they'll get more strict because there are still a lot of injuries now, the best player in the game is affected by one," Booth said. "I think that will raise a lot of heads, too and more people will be aware of it and that’ll create more protection.
"You have to (tighten the rules). That's the most serious injury in the game and there's not enough data out there yet, so definitely, crack down on that."
The 26-year-old Booth scored 31 goals two seasons ago. While his output through 50 games this doesn’t quite match that pace, he does lead the Panthers with 15 goals.
"I wanted to get as many games as I could, I wanted to play a full season, 82 games and just get back the timing you lose when you miss pretty much a whole season," Booth said. "It's coming back and there are still areas I need to improve, but as you play more, you start to work on things and get used to the game again."
His coach, Peter DeBoer, sees signs of progress.
"I think he’s getting better and better," DeBoer said. "He's staring to look like the David Booth he was before, slowly getting back toward that. He’s getting better and we need him to get to where he was before."