NHL needs to act on head shots -- now

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
9:01
AM PT

Just yesterday after the Kings practice, coach Terry Murray was asked if he was in favor of the league implementing changes in its rules regarding head shots and dangerous hits right away, rather than waiting until the start of next season.

Murray responded that he was in favor of the changes taking affect immediately--and let's hope the powers that be at the league concur. And if they do, two players on the Chicago Blackhawks who were on the receiving end of irresponsible hits may be a big part of the reason.

First, last Sunday against Washington, Hawks all-star defenseman Brian Campbell was checked into the boards from behind by Alex Ovechkin and will be sidelined six to eight weeks with a fractured collar bone and broken rib. Ovechkin's hit earned him an ejection from that game, as well as a subsequent two-game suspension from the league.

Then, last night in Anaheim, Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski barreled into Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook less than 2 1/2 minutes into the second period, delivering a vicious shot to the jaw. Seabrook slumped against the glass, an eerie, dazed and disoriented look on his face before slithering to the ice.

Just seconds earlier, Seabrook had delivered an aggressive hit on Corey Perry of the Ducks. The hit by Wisniewski was payback by a player who began his career with Chicago and was a former teammate of Seabrook's before being traded to the Ducks last March.

Seabrook was able to skate to the bench under his own power, but left the bench area, and the game, shortly thereafter.

The league is conducting an investigation of the hit, although there's no guarantee that they'll have an announcement by the end of today. That's because league disciplinarian Colin Campbell is out of the office, getting ready to attend tonight's game in Boston between the Penguins and Bruins. This is the first time these two teams will meet in the wake of another vicious hit--by Matt Cooke of Pittsburgh on Marc Savard of the Bruins on March 7 in Pittsburgh that knocked Savard out for the rest of the season with a concussion. Cooke was not disciplined by the league because as of right now, his hit isn't deemed as being illegal.

Campbell is in Boston to talk to both teams prior to the game and insure that no ugly retribution occurs on the part of the Bruins against Cooke. Of course, if Cooke had been immediately suspended by the league, as he should have been, for purposely intending to injure Savard, Campbell's trip and pre-game warning to the boys to behave themselves wouldn't have been necessary.

These hits not only hurt players, but they do even more damage to the game itself. No need to go on a long-winded diatribe here about the image of hockey and how much it suffers every time something like this happens and the league seems slow or indecisive in reacting and meting out the appropriate punishment.

The view here is that the NHL simply cannot wait one minute longer to implement immediate changes in the rules. It's mid-March. The Stanley Cup playoffs start in less than a month. The games will only become more meaningful, heated and intense.

"You hit a guy without the puck, you could kill a guy," said incensed Hawks coach Joel Quenneville of the Wisniewski hit. "It's the most dangerous hit in the history of the game, alright."

Amen.

One of these nights, one of these hits is going to be so devastating that someone isn't going to get up.

Here's hoping the league acts--now--before that has a chance to happen.

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