NHL Head Shots

November 2, 2008

Carolina Hurricanes general manager, Jim Rutherford, criticizes the NHL on its stance on head shots. Read the rest of the story and see videos on head shots in the NHL below.

After rookie winger Brandon Sutter of the Carolina Hurricanes got a concussion after a hit from New York Islander Doug Weight, Hurricane general manager Jim Rutherford spoke with TSN.ca regarding the NHL’s stance on head shots.

“The league should at least stop saying it’s concerned with hits to the head, because it’s not. I’ve had four players – Erik Cole, Trevor Letowski, Matt Cullen and now Sutter – get badly injured on hits to the head and only one of the guys who hit them was suspended. So don’t tell me the league is concerned about hits to the head because it’s not. You can say it’s a contact game and it is, and I’m fine with that. Just don’t say you care about players getting hit in the head because you don’t.”

Despite the serious hits that could potentially have disastrous consequences, head shots are not technically illegal according to NHL rules. Hockey is a rough, physical sport, where fights can break out between players during the games. Rules recently changed so that now the fight’s instigator gets ejected, the other participant(s) just get a 5 minute penalty. Fans encourage and seem to thrive on fights and the other physically harsh aspects of the game, such as hard hits and checks into the glass. Head shots are difficult to regulate, as no one wants to take the physicality out of the game. They’re also difficult because head injuries can result from hits that were not aimed at players’ heads. Montreal Canadian player Andrei Kostitsyn left the game with a concussion last week after his head slammed into the glass and he landed face-first on the ice. The hit, however, was not aimed at his head. His opponent pushed him using his shoulder and arms, and the resulting head injury was caused because Kostitsyn’s head was down during the play.

Writer David Shoalts points out how difficult the issue is, saying:

“Solving the N.H.L.’s problem of hits to the head requires a varied approach because, unlike fighting or hits from behind, it is not a black-and-white issue.”

Tampa Bay Lightening captain Vincent Lecavalier says:

“It’s so tough because every hit is different. There are a lot of grey areas. For example, if I hit [teammate] Martin St. Louis, I’m taller than him and I’m sure I’m going to hit his head.”

Glenn Healy, the NHL Player’s Association’s director of player affairs, said there were 65 concussions in games last year, 39 of which were caused by shoulder-to-head hits. He feels that action should be eliminated from games rather than banning all head shots across the board. One step that has been made was an equipment change, where shoulder pads are now available with softer padding around the edges. This echos previous changes, where softer padding was put on the outside of elbow pads worn by the players, a move which seems to have been successful. Many players seem partial to the equipment they have used since childhood, however, and the new shoulder pads are not worn by everyone. The NHLPA thinks a rule change should be a last resort.

Videos of NHL head shots are below.

TSA.ca interview about NHL head shots Video

TSA.ca Off The Record talks about NHL head shots Video

NHL Head Shot Video

Another NHL head shot Video
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