The stretcher has seen more ice time in NHL rinks in the first month of the season than Buffalo Sabres fourth-liner John Scott.
Right from opening night, when Montreal Canadiens pugilist George Parros awkwardly toppled over Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a fight and Parros hit his chin on the ice
to the latest incident that saw Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall get carted off
a couple of weeks ago.
Sure, teams are taking more precautionary measures when a player suffers a head or neck injury than in the past, and not all of the scary incidents have been the result of goon tactics.
Even Kronwall shared the blame in his incident, in which Colorado Avalanche forward Cody McLeod was hit with a five-game ban
"I could have done a lot of things differently," Kronwall told reporters upon his return to action. "I shouldn't have put myself in that spot in the first place. He's coming in with a lot of speed, sure, but I did turn at the last second.
"It goes fast out there and it's so easy to go back and slow it down, look at it in slow motion, and be very smart about things. But it's hockey and everything is high pace and it goes fast out there. Guys will make some bad decisions out there sometimes. In my case, I ended up on a stretcher."
Still, Brendan Shanahan and his department of player safety have been busy in the first month. The latest was Scott's seven-game suspension
for his head check on Boston Bruins veteran Loui Eriksson.
Even if we count only the suspensions served in the 2013-14 regular season (ignoring suspensions for pre-season games), the total number of suspensions is halfway to last year's total for the lockout-shortened regular season plus the playoffs, the number of games players have been suspended for has almost already matched last year's total, and the salary forfeited already has surpassed last season's total.
Season Players Games Salary Lost Players Fined Amount
- 2011-12 57 204 $2,457,906 35 $87,500
- 2013 24 64 $714,829 7 $49,376
- 2013-14 12 60 $899,665 3 $12,243
Unless players exhibit a willingness to curb these senseless acts, the number of suspensions and fine money will soar past the totals of the last two seasons.
Shanahan and his department have been doing everything in their power to educate and deliver stiff punishment. But there are many reasons and theories as to why there appears to be an increase in the first month of the season.
We discussed this matter with several players, scouts and league executives in an off-the-record manner this week to get their honest thoughts.
- A common theme to the reasons was the old cliché that the game has never been faster and players are bigger. So collisions will happen and injuries will result.
- There is so much emphasis on finishing the check. In the 1970s and 1980s, only the player with the puck got hit. "The major injuries usually occur on late hits," said one executive. "If a player gets rid of the puck, he shouldn't be hit. The defensive player has to let up, like on the Scott hit on Eriksson. That's how Raffi Torres got into all his problems. Tell me this, why when a player dumps in a puck and an opponent shields him from getting in on the forecheck a second later the defending player gets called for interference? Yet, when a player hits another play a second after he gets rid of the puck, it's okay?"
- There is an increasing amount of demand from coaches to their players to be physical.
- More teams dump and chase rather than rush the puck in. "We call this NZTPI (neutral zone tip-ins). This exposes defending players more, like the Boyle and Kronwall hits."
- Has the removal of the red (centre) line played a role? Our experts were mixed on this.
- Players expose themselves more to the big hit. "The guys are taught when you can see an opponent's eye balls, you contain. When you see their numbers, jump the puck. Some players confuse this with driving an opponent into the boards. A lot more players play the game with their backs to opponents because this has become a way to protect the puck."
- Among our experts, the consensus is that the finish-the-check mentality has to be altered to a let-up-if-the-puck-is-no-longer-there.
It will be interesting to see if this topic is on the agenda for the general manager meetings in Toronto on Nov. 12. It will be interesting to see if the early-season trend continues to keep Shanahan a busy, busy person.
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