Joe Haggerty has some chilling thoughts in, Thornton's penalty a green light to NHL predators. Everyone should read it.
To my way of thinking, what Haggerty is warning us of is the result of the absurd way that justice is handed out by the NHL. Too much attention is paid to the result (injury) and not enough attention is paid to the act itself. The idea seems to be that it is ok to violate a rule that was designed to improve player safety until someone gets hurt. Only then is the act usually considered an infraction. The "intent to injure" is another mistaken aspect of all this. Somehow the NHL department of player safety is supposed to look at the circumstances of a hit and infer the intentions of the players involved. Unless they have a way to read minds, this is simply not a practical approach.
An example of this was when Brad Marchand of the Bruins injured Sami Salo of the Canucks with a low check in 2012. Because Marchand had gone looking for Salo after an incident, the NHL deemed this an intentional hit meant to cause injury. The problem with this, is that players are always trying to hurt each other. It's part of the game. Shawn Thornton wanted to hurt Brooks Orpik. But he surely didn't intend to send him to the hospital (if for no other reason than he'd end up suspended). Whether it be sending a message with a big hit into the boards or a facewash in front of the net, they are trying to hurt each other. How do you tell if they are trying to actually injure someone seriously? There simply is no way to do that. So this "intent to injure" idea is just plain crazy. The NHL can't know what was going through a players mind. The result of this approach to discipline that the NHL uses looks haphazard and leaves people complaining of bias, undermining confidence and leaving the fate of players to the whim of chance.
But it's worse than that. The inconsistent way these suspensions are handed out, often with no serious call by the on-ice official, is hurting the game. If you don't punish the hits to the head or checks from behind, you are ensuring that someone is going to eventually be injured. It's a statistical certainty. And when the player is suspended for doing the same thing he's gotten away with repeatedly, he and his fans are going to rightly feel a long suspension is unjustified. For these reasons the NHL must start punishing the infractions that are in their rule book universally, not just when someone is injured or when they think the player had an intent to injure.
It should start with a major penalty called on the ice. The major penalty is a tool that is seldom used today, but it should be the first line of defense when it comes to player safety. All they need to do to make the game safer is to start calling the rules that are already in the book.
As an example, recently Brad Marchand checked Sean Monahan of the Flames into the boards from behind. It was a textbook example of a reckless hit that could result in injury, particularly because Monahan was facing the boards. Yet Marchand was only given 2 minutes for boarding. After the game his coach defended him, saying,
“I look at that hit and it’s a two-minute penalty. And I don’t think he was going in there looking to injure the guy,” Julien said. “He was going to hit and the guy turned and how he got him deserved a two-minute penalty but that’s as much as it is."
Here is the important part of the text of rule 43:
43.3 Major Penalty – Any player or goalkeeper who cross-checks, pushes or charges from behind an opponent who is unable to protect or defend himself, shall be assessed a major penalty. This penalty applies anywhere on the playing surface.As a hockey fan first, and a Bruins fan second, I would have liked to have seen the major penalty called. It was reckless, no matter how the other player ended up turning or the intent of Marchand. I'd prefer this to seeing Bergeron or Krejci taken off the ice on a backboard, or for that matter, any other player.
It's time the NHL woke up to the enormous error they are making. If they don't, players are going to continue suffering preventable head injuries, and in turn that is going to mean that in ten years time we aren't going to recognize the game.