Friday, May 20, 2011

Mike Keenan is Wrong

The hit Marc-Andre Bergeron made on David Krejci at the end of the first period in last night's game was an illegal check to the head. I am appalled at how the majority of fans and pundits view this hit. The comments of Mike Keenen made between periods were particularly outrageous. Don't agree? Then watch the video below and then read the text of rule 48.

NHL Rule 48

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

48.2 Minor Penalty - There is no provision for a minor penalty for this rule.

48.3 Major Penalty - For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).

48.4 Game Misconduct – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.

It is clear from the video that Bergeron's shoulder impacted Krejci's head. Krejci was moving laterally when the hit came. He obviously did not see Bergeron coming. There is no question that this was a lateral hit where the head was the principal point of contact. Anyone who has been watching this topic knows that during the regular season this would have been called and Bergeron would have been suspended. Shame on the NHL for apparently suspending rule 48 during the playoffs. And shame on Mike Keenen for the tired old, "Krejci should have kept his head up," argument. His suggestion that the players aren't being taught well enough to be aware of where everyone is around them is ludicrous.

There are going to be times when a player gets himself into a vulnerable position. In this case it was Bergeron coming off the bench and catching Krejci unawares. A player might get caught looking down at the puck a few feet from the boards with his back to the play. Or maybe he doesn't notice the stanchion ahead when preparing to take a high hit along the glass. The question is, should we blame the player who gets hit and possibly injured, or do we expect the player doing the hitting--the one usually in control of the situation--to back off a bit? I believe this is a critical question and the future of the NHL depends on getting the answer right.

Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, Marc Savard, and Sydney Crosby--all high profile players who have had their careers heavily impacted by concussions. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Looking just at recent Bruins history, not only do we have Savard missing an entire season and may never play again, but Patrice Bergeron also missed a season. He recently missed several playoff games as well. David Krejci was lucky, his teammates gave him a heads up just in time or it could have been much worse. Krejci too has a history of concussions, having missed seven games to it.

According to neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Comper, the NHL averages about 75 concussions per season. “In my opinion, really what you should do is get rid of all targeted head hits," Comper has said.

Ex NHL referee Kerry Fraser has also said that banning hits to the head was necessary, saying, “The N.H.L. must outlaw head hits.”

Here's how I see it. The speed of the game increased after the lockout in 2005. Players have less time to react and hits come with greater impact. As a result concussions have become more common. As the careers of more and more high profile players are threatened this is going to force the NHL to come to a decision: either slow the game down by bringing back the clutching and grabbing, or put a stop to the hits to the head.

I remember all too well how boring the old clutch and grab game was. I would hate to see it come back. So in my view the NHL must stop the hits to the head. Rule 48 is a good start, but it needs to be expanded. Any hit to the head is dangerous, regardless of whether it is from the blind side or laterally. I suspect the reason some don't see this most recent example as a violation of the rule comes down to whether or not it was a "lateral" hit. I believe it was, but others may disagree. The thing is--this is a technicality that should not matter, nor should it matter if the player had his head down.

Later in the same game Marchand was knocked to the ice. As he fell his stick rode up and hit another player in the face. A penalty was called and the commentator agreed, claiming that, "you must always have control of your stick." Nobody tried to blame the other player for not protecting himself. So why the double standard? When a player's back is to you along the boards you don't hit him on the numbers sending his head into the boards. You don't leave your feet to drive your shoulder into someone's head. And when a player's head is down you don't drill it. That's not really so difficult is it? Considering the alternatives, this would seem a small price to pay to keep the game we love healthy.

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