Well the NHL preseason is over, and there has been a lot that has happened that is a preview for the next 82 games. The new regime of Brendan Shanahan has show that the league is taking hits to the head seriously. This is coming after major hits to the head happened to Sidney Crosby, and the possible career ending hit to Marc Savard by Matt Cooke.
Shanahan is getting praise for his harsh penalties for hits to the head, and even harsher ones for repeat offenders, as James Wisniewski and Pierre Letourneau-Leblond have found out. Since September 22, Shanahan has issued 9 suspensions. He has even taken to issuing a video explanation as to the reasoning behind the suspension, placing it on the NHL website, and on Twitter.
However, yesterday Ryan Malone was NOT issued a suspension for his hit to the head of Chris Campoli. Shanahan explained that the reasoning behind this was that Campoli changed the position of his head prior to the hit.
In the end, we felt that Malone had committed to the hit when Campoli was
upright. However, when the contact was made, Campoli's head position
significantly changed just prior to the hit. Shanahan said in a statement
released by the league.
The problem I have with this decision, is that it now creates a precedent. Similar to how last years hit by Zdeno Chara, that shoved Max Pacioretty into the stanchion, created an uproar to the precedent it set. If a repeat offender laid a similar hit onto someone, there would be no recourse for any discipline since Chara did not receive any. Now, if a vicious hit to the head happens, but results due to a shift in position, how can Shanahan justify any kind of punishment? Malone jumped into the hit, and head contact was incidental however there was contact nonetheless. And he led into the hit with a jump. I don't understand how Shanahan can justify this.
Fans across the league were upset with the hit to the head that Sidney Crosby received during last season's Winter Classic. Dave Steckel, who was the one who blindsided Crosby, was not punished, and was chastised for months after by fans and commentators alike, and people wanted a change to the rule. Crosby has played one game since then, and has been out with post-concussion like symptoms. The league's biggest star has not played a game since the first week of January 2011. This hit was not intentional, and Crosby's position changed, which caused his head to be hit.
Clarke MacArthur was one of the first time offenders who has had a Shanahan suspension handed down to him. MacArthur was quoted as saying,
I just think there’s going to be no hitting in this game. I think that is
going to happen. No one wants to take five- or 10-game suspensions. You’ve
really got to think when you’re going to go finish your hit, you’ve really
pay attention because the guy with the puck doesn’t have any responsibility
any more. It’s on the guy hitting.
I don't believe that things would get this far. However, I do agree that players will really have to think about what they're doing when going in for a hit. Hitting is part of the game, and will be, as it has been for over a century. But I do think that suspensions, punishments, etc. need to be consistent and have the punishment fit the crime.