The ‘Fighting/Head-Shot’ Debate. My Take.
Going into this coming season are two major issues of player health; fighting, and head shots.
The latter was addressed going into last season, with the addition of a new head-shot rule. This rule change was deemed to have not been sufficient, and has been further strengthened for 2011/12, essentially adding a referee discretion rule allowing any hit to the head to be deemed a penalty of varying severity.
As with any change, some see this as having gone too far, other as not having gone far enough.
In my opinion, the change is indicative of the fact there exists, at the highest levels, a strong disagreement over the existence of any ban on head shots.
If there were strong agreement on either side of this debate, the rule would have either been abolished, or moved to its most rational conclusion, a total ban on head shots. Instead the rule has defacto moved the onus upon the officials…to me, this is entirely stupid.
If hitting the head is dangerous, thus requiring a specific rule to manage, then ban it. If it is not illegal, then allow it. To expect the referees to manage this massive gray area, from minute to minute, based upon their own opinions, is just inviting more discussion, and media/audience judgement on this issue.
As a hockey fan, I simply cannot imagine my entertainment being curtailed because players cannot hit the head…and anyone who does argue this, frankly, can do so only from one of two perspectives; the extreme exception of a player being in a legal checking position, then choosing to move into an illegal position, to avoid a hit, or an individual who enjoys seeing a human being hurt. The first is unlikely, either because it borders on impossible to do, at speed, the second because it is so obvious (who instinctively drops their head into a hit?) as to be easily remedied with an un-sportsman like penalty.
I say make the head-shot rule like the high stick rule, illegal.
As for fighting, I’m of two minds on this. It differs from a “head-shot” because it has no official part in the game. Head shots can happen as a result of attempting to perform a legal check, never in the game are you supposed to throw a punch. In this regard fighting is external to the game, never happens as a part of a legal play, and always results in a stoppage in play.
I would like to see the show fight banned. I still believe fighting will continue in the game, and when it occurs in response to a highly competitive and physical sport, I can live with it, assuming both combatants are willing participants. The fight that erupts as a result of repeated hacks, cross-checks, or a dangerous act(s), seem reasonable to me, again, if both combatants are willing to engage in the fight.
But here’s the rub, if a fight erupts as a result of these circumstances, isn’t this a failure of the officials to manage the game? How many fights have we seen start after a player, or group of players, have been allowed to engage in ‘dangerous’ activities (charging, slashing, crashing the net, cross-checking) with impunity, leading to an emotionally hyper charged on ice environment? I believe the first step to reducing fighting is to increase the application of penalties for the dangerous play that leads to these fights.
Next is the show fight, or staged fight. These really need to go, and both who engage in this activity need to be ejected, fined one games pay, and the team fined based upon a set schedule.
Lastly, I want to comment on discipline. I firmly believe that far too much onus is placed upon penalizing the player, not the entire system. I do not believe players are solely responsible for the acts they commit. The teams, and league play a role in these acts, even if only tacitly.
I believe teams need to be included in the penalties associated with suspensions, and here’s how I’d do it.
If a player is suspended for a play which causes injury to another player, the team of the suspended player must assume payment of that players salary until the player is deemed fit to return, or the player is placed upon LTIR. The offending players team must also assume the associated cap space up to the cap ceiling.
I.E. A player earning 1M is injured by a play resulting in a suspension to the offending player, and misses 10 games. The team of the suspended player must pay that injured players salary for those 10 games, and add this payment to their cap. Any excess amount that causes the team to be over the cap for any one game, is carried forward until either consumed over time, or remains at the end of the season, whereby it will be applied to the following years cap space.
This new penalty format will create more pressure to change on ice behaviour than simply fining one individual actor in the play of hundreds.