The Injury Situation

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Hockey, Sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

This sh*t happens, so get used to it.

People get hurt in hockey.  People get checked into the boards by big men flying around on skates.

But that doesn’t mean that for every injury in the NHL that results from a body check the checking player should be suspended.  It sounds ridiculous even to say it.  You wouldn’t give Scott Stevens a suspension for making a legal hit on Eric Lindros as he cuts across the blueline with his head down, would you?

Yet that is what we’ve come to in today’s world of hockey.  We’ve become so intent on policing headshots and preventing injuries that any time a player is injured, whether the play by which he was injured was legal or not, we scream out for a penalty or a suspension.

We assume that because someone is injured that the play was dirty and therefore deserving of suspension.  That thought relies upon the assumption that the game is safe to begin with and that in the regular course of a game no one will get injured if they play by the rules.

Personally, I blame Matt Cooke.  I could blame Cooke for a lot of things because I really don’t like the guy, but in this case the blame lies firmly at his feet after his dirty hit on Marc Savard.  His blindside elbow to the head knocked one of the most skilled players in the league out of action for the rest of the regular season.  Cooke went unpunished for what was unquestionably a dirty, cowardly hit.  This prompted a harsh backlash by fans and players alike for the league to crack down on headshot-throwing felons like Cooke.

The bottom line is that the Cooke incident set off a chain reaction that has led us to the point we are at now.  From that point fans looked for headshots – the true marker of which is whether or not the player is concussed in the aftermath – and came down harshly against the players who injured other players by throwing elbows to the head.  That sentiment then evolved to any other kind of injury and now when players get injured through being hit by another player in any way people cry out for suspensions or create lynch mobs to hunt down and castrate the offending party.

For those of you who don’t believe this, take a gander at the current discussion surrounding Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty.

On one hand you have the people who are inherently biased because of what team they cheer for.  Bruins fans see nothing wrong with the hit and some of them attribute rather feminine qualities to Pacioretty despite the fact that he was concussed and fractured some vertebrae (seriously, I’d like to see you keep playing in that condition!).  Montreal fans have made Chara the most wanted man in all of the Montreal area, considering the hit he delivered to be full of reckless intent to injure.  The Montreal side is calling for blood, obviously angry that one of their players has been knocked out of action for a while – and the awkward construction of their home arena makes it even less easy to swallow.

On the other hand you have the non-biased, such as TSN’s Bob McKenzie (who I normally agree with on a lot of things), who in trying to view the situation objectively have found themselves advocating for punishments based on injury alone.

The logic to this position is easy.  Injuries are bad, no matter how they are caused.  They detract from the on-ice product which has effects upon both the financial and physical aspects of the game.  Less injuries are ultimately better for both the league and the players themselves.  Due to the ever-present possibility of freak injuries, it is impossible to cut all injuries out of the game.  Injuries to players that happen as a result of actions of other players are not freak accidents and are preventable.  Therefore, it makes sense to cut out any and all preventable injuries, including those that result from actions of other players.

It also helps the argument when a player, in this case Pacioretty, decrys the act by which he was injured shortly after being declared unfit to play for the forseeable future.  It worked wonders for the crusade against headshots when Sidney Crosby vented immediately after his run in with concussion (although it didn’t work wonders for his image as a whiner or the NHL’s image of only caring about its stars).

However, that viewpoint is patently wrong.  You can’t penalize or suspend players for every injury that is a direct result of their actions.  You can punish them for injuries that are a direct result of their intentions or for injuries that are a direct result of obviously illegal plays, but not for injuries that are a direct result of legal plays.

If you start punishing players for legal plays only in the cases where a player is injured, then you create a double standard of punishment.  Suddenly a play becomes illegal in some cases and legal in others.  Even the standard to which an action is deemed to be illegal fluctuates based on the referee or league disciplinarian that is presiding on any given day.  Simply put, a fluctuating and uncertain standard is not standard at all.

It makes no sense to judge players by one set of rules up until a certain point and then, because of some random coincidence, judge them by another set later.  In order to bring some sanity to the situation the league would have to either make the play itself illegal, in which case much of the aggressiveness of hockey might be lost, or accept that injuries do actually happen by coincidence.

And injuries to happen by coincidence.  A recent study shows that 8% of all NHL injuries are complete flukes.  That doesn’t include injuries that happen during the course of play or through body checks.  When those injuries are added, the number of coincidental injuries moves above 50%.  To make every play that leads to these injuries illegal would effectively neuter the game of hockey.  It might not take away the aggression fully, but it would change the game beyond recognition.

Therefore, everyone needs to realize that injuries do happen.  We need to realize not to overreact when we see someone taken off in a stretcher or hobbling to the dressing room.  Sure, we don’t like or want to see players hurt – especially our favourites – but such is the state of affairs in hockey and we need to accept that without going completely overboard.

We all love the aggression in the game, so grow up and stop whining when someone gets hurt because of it.

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