The General Manager’s meetings are underway in Boca Raton, Florida, and the biggest topic was how the league is going to deal with concussions doled out by illegal (and legal) hits. Commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled his five-step approach for dealing with concussions, which sounds very reactionary, and less preventative than most had hoped or expected.
- Step 1: Brendan Shannahan will work with clubs to improve equipment to help prevent concussions. In other news, Mark Messier developed a helmet as a part of the Mark Messier project to tackle this issue. The difference is that Messier did this two years ago. The Captain is always a step ahead of everyone else.
- Step 2: If a player is suspected of being concussed, then he must be removed from the bench and moved to a quiet area to be further evaluated. This means that next season, when Marian Gaborik gets another concussion, he can be moved to the lower bowl in MSG. No one is going to be able to afford to sit there now.
- Step 3: Penalties will be assessed to the coach of repeat offenders for illegal hits. Right, because that stopped Marc Crawford…
- Step 4: Safety engineers will evaluate all 30 NHL rinks for appropriate padding and safety measures, which result in more padding on the stanchions. Also, each corner will now be baby-proofed.
- Step 5: A panel will be assembled to look at this issue going forward. So basically, this step cancelled out the first four steps, because it’s clear that these won’t help at all.
All kidding aside, the NHL is at least making an effort to curb hits to the head. The problem is that they are not recognizing what is causing this pandemic in the NHL. The instigator penalty is the direct cause of so many of these illegal hits. Gone are the days where a questionable hit is dealt with swiftly and by the players. Players hide behind the instigator penalty, knowing that anyone who picks a fight after an illegal hit will get an automatic 2+10 and a suspension.
Old time hockey saw the players policing themselves, and the game flourished. There was flow to the game, but more importantly, the players were safer because the you weren’t sought after when your head was down. Imagine what would have happened to Scott Stevens had there been no instigator penalty (no mean to single out Stevens, he’s just the hardest clean hitter of the bunch). Eric Lindros might have had less than eight concussions. Someone on the Flyers would have gone after Stevens, and the issue would have been quashed.
Think I’m exaggerating a bit? I’m not. You want the biggest proof that the instigator penalty needs to be removed? Todd Bertuzzi.