By Hafiz Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
Concussions have become a prominent issue in the world of hockey and they are becoming more and more noticeable in the National Hockey League.Through the first month of this season, the rate of concussions in the NHL is up by about 30%.Just this season alone, we’ve seen star players such as Rick Nash, Dustin Penner, Danny Briere and Dan Boyle all suffer concussions.
There is no doubt that concussions are an extremely serious issue and the NHL Player Safety department has tried to address this.Rule 48.1 of the Official NHL Rulebook defines illegal checks to the head.It states that, “a hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.”The NHL states that they take this issue seriously and in reality they generally hand out suspensions for illegal checks to the head.Whether the sanctions given out to players who deliver headshots is adequate or even working is a question for another day.
The NHL makes a point of denouncing checks to the head but are they doing enough?One of my biggest problems with the NHL’s denunciation of headshots is that it is largely reactive rather than proactive.What I mean by that is that the NHL will suspend a player if he makes a deliberate and dangerous hit if a player gets injured, but they rarely seem to do anything over an attempted dangerous hit.
An example of this occurred last week in a game on November 2nd between the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs.Henrik Sedin, star centre of the Vancouver Canucks, cut to the front of the net and as he did so, Joffrey Lupul of the Maple Leafs, stuck out his elbow and took a run at Sedin.Sedin later said that he saw the elbow coming for his head out of the corner of his eye and was able to duck out of the way at the last minute.Lupul came at such speed that when he missed Sedin’s head, his momentum carried him forward and he ended up hitting his teammate Nazem Kadri in the head with his elbow.The game was being broadcasted by CBC as part of their Hockey Night in Canada program and it was astounding that the commentators did not reference this attempted dirty hit nor was there a replay shown of it during the game.It may have gone entirely unnoticed if not for social media, which picked up on it and the video clip went viral following the game.
The first time I watched the video, I thought it was hilarious that Lupul ended up elbowing his own teammate in the head.Only later did I realize how bad that could have been if Lupul’s cheap shot had actually connected with Sedin’s head when he was in a vulnerable position.Henrik Sedin is one of the star players on the Vancouver Canucks and is currently tied for third in points in the NHL this season.He also is second in the active Ironman streak in the league that recognizes most consecutive games played.That could have all ended had Lupul’s elbow connected.The Canucks were dominating the Leafs and Lupul must have been frustrated or angry because there is no doubt that he deliberately tried injuring Henrik Sedin with an elbow to the head.It amazes me that the league lays sanctions on players if they injure their opponent, but that there are no sanctions for deliberate attempts to injure that do not work.Even if the referees on the ice did not see Lupul’s attempt to injure another player, there is no way that the NHL did not see that play later on as it went viral. How do you send a message that illegal checks to the head are not OK and are a suspendable offence, but attempting a check to the head is not a big deal as long it doesn’t connect?
In today’s day and age when there is so much evidence of the detriment of brain injuries, it makes zero sense not to punish players for attempting illegal shots to the head.As a Vancouver Province blogger stated, it makes no sense that someone would have to potentially concuss another player before they get suspended, yet they can attempt it as many times as they want without risk, until they connect.