Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No appetite to eliminate head shots

As the old adage goes there is no such thing as bad press.
For about a week the NHL has consistently been at the top of the news cycle – even drawing in Air Canada and Prime Minister Stephen Harper into the debate – as a result of Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara's hit on Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty. The hit, which resulted in no discipline against Chara left Pacioretty with a severe concussion and fractured vertebrae.
The potentially career-ending hit last week is nothing new to the NHL. And each time it happens we hear players say more needs to be done, we hear from coaches, analysts, pundits, and we hear from Gary Bettman telling media it is a horrible situation.
And yet nothing ever changes.
Not surprising really. Bettman has received days of free press putting his sport as the hottest topic around water coolers, and just about everywhere else. Everyone has an opinion.
The NHL has had every opportunity to crack down on illegal hits, hits from behind, hits to the head, hits with intent to injure, and while there's no doubt some of the punishments handed down have become more severe, for multi-million dollar hockey players, the fines or lost salary is akin to a slap on the wrist.
Even Canada's most outspoken hockey commentator has spent years arguing for the need of enforcers and retribution in hockey. Don Cherry has not only promoted the fact that hockey needs big hits, he's made no fewer than 22 Rock 'Em Sock 'Em videos highlighting among other things – hits and fights. It shouldn't go unnoticed that the video series has become the biggest selling sports video franchise in Canada since first introduced in 1989.
Hits are a part of hockey, and players sometimes get hurt, and no one needs to remind the NHL brass of that fact. But trying to fill seats in too many southern arenas, trying to remain relevant and competitive against the onslaught of a host of other sports entertainment options for viewers – and their dollars – the NHL will take all of the controversy and free press it can get.
It's not in the NHL's best financial interest to crack down on big hits; if it were, lifetime suspensions for intent-to-injure hits would be a reality; multi-million dollar fines to teams, owners, and players would be a reality.
The NHL hasn't done that, and they won't. It just doesn't pay to punish the players the fans pay to see deliver the hits the NHL wants them to deliver.  

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