Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NHL Safety Blunders

In the last couple of years, the National Hockey League has made an emphasis to reduce the number of head injuries. In fact, a lot of people can trace this recent campaign against head injuries directly to Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty two seasons ago. It has not been long since that horrific hit, but one fact stands out the most: Chara was not disciplined.

Of course, that issue was 'solved' two years ago, so I am not here to beat that dead horse any more than it probably has been already. My problem with the NHL is the inconsistency of discipline, and I am pretty sure most fans of the league can agree. It seems as though superstar players always receive the benefit of the doubt over players that are making fall less than multi-million dollar salary. Dare I say the word 'favoritism,' but it is extremely difficult sometimes to avoid that thought. That said, I read an interesting article regarding Chara's style of play. The article compared a hit by New York Islanders' forward Michael Grabner to a hit by Chara, both within a few weeks of each other. The article was written on a New York Islanders-focused blog, Lighthouse Hockey.

Grabner received a two game suspension while Chara received no discipline. The author, solely known as 'Dominik,' was quick to state that he agreed with the suspension against Grabner, a player on his preferred team. However, Chara's hit was at least equally as bad, if not worse, than Grabner's infraction. Dominik is disturbed by the fact that Chara's actions were not disciplined. In short, Dominik outlined the reasons why Chara's hit was illegal and concluded that Chara should have also been suspended.

Another controversial hit was made by Buffalo Sabres' forward John Scott on Oct. 23 against Boston Bruins' forward Loui Eriksson. The hit was somewhat comparable to the ones made by Chara and Grabner. Just somewhat. Scott, with no previous history of illegal actions, received a 7 game suspension while Grabner received just the two games. Scott threw an elbow at Eriksson, which was reason to accuse Scott of intent to injure. However, it is pretty clear that Grabner also threw an elbow deliberately at the head of his victim, while Chara's hit involved forearms to the face of the man he made contact with. I feel as though Chara's situation was the worst one (go figure, it didn't result in any discipline). He already towers above every other player at 6 feet and 9 inches, but Chara felt the need to launch himself upwards into the opposing player, obviously ending with contact to the head. With all of the similarities in the three plays, it is strange to me how one player gets a long suspension, the other gets a short one, and the third one gets nothing at all. Chara, who received no punishment, is the most famous player and has the fattest contract of the three, while Scott is regarded as one of the league's 'goons.' That spells favoritism to me right away, but that's just me.

Of course, there are many more instances where I feel the NHL has completely swung and missed in terms of player safety. The league will always be accused of playing favorites, and in the league's defense, they cannot ever be perfect. Hockey is one of the fastest sports in the world, and referees have so much to worry about on the ice. The league can only review plays a certain amount of ties before it becomes repetitive, and hockey is a sport where a lot of infractions are borderline. Fact is, player safety is not easily enforced in the NHL. However, I feel that the league is currently underachieving.

Image caption: UNIONDALE, NY - NOVEMBER 02: Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins takes a two minute roughing penalty against Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on November 2, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Bruins 3-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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