A couple of times each year, the NHL's general managers meet to discuss pertinent business. There is never enough time to thoroughly discuss the issues presented to them by the league.
Maybe this time they can clear the slate of issues, save for the one that has been debated throughout the hockey world this past week: player safety.
I'm not an alarmist, but the data does suggest it is time to review the matter. The Zdeno Chara hit not withstanding, it can't be denied that hitting is up and so are injuries, particularly concussions.
The GMs will not make concussions go away - if you don't want to get hurt, don't play the game - but they can help by methodically examining the factors that have lead to the predicament.
Faster game, more injuries
Number one on the list: Revisit the changes that were made enthusiastically but hastily in 2004.
The attempt during the lockout to open up the game has been as much a culprit as anything to bring us to this point. The red line was removed, impeding a forechecker was banned and goaltender puckhandling was minimized.
Besides developing a faster game, these changes cleared the way for bigger and more dangerous hits.
According to my colleagueon the Hotstove, Pierre LeBrun, hits are up by 40 per cent since the 2004 lockout. More hits, more concussions. How's that for a start? It will take more than that, but I assure that allowing for a bit of impeding, letting checkers employ their hands and arms in briefly locking up their check (as used to be the case) will go a long way to bringing back some moderation to the collisions we now see.
Clearly, they can't stop there. Take the time using a blue ribbon committee including players, coaches, managers, physicians and equipment manufacturers to examine all the aspects of the issue.
Can the seamless glass
And for goodness sake, look at the playing surface, boards and glass. Seamless glass is a joke. A bad joke.
When I was a manager on Long Island, the owners of the team in the late 1990s asked me about using seamless glass. "It's great. Look at the clarity! And in the long run it will be cheaper than Plexiglas because it holds up so well."
My response was simple. This stuff is no good. Too heavy. It's like hitting a brick wall. I told them that if they wanted to put it in that they could have me on record as being totally opposed to it. And by the way, while I have no data, I bet they lost tons more money due to player injury than they saved by using it.
Today the league has several teams that have seamless on the ends of their rinks. All of these teams are due to replace the seamless on the ends by next season. Should have been done long ago. But wait, seamless glass still exists all over the place on the sideboards. GET RID OF IT. The league has to take blame if a single player gets hurt playing in an arena with seamless glass.
Eliminate the glass partitions between the benches. Put a couple cops there and make the sanction for interacting (that means fighting) with the other team in that area a 40-game suspension. End of problem.
Onus on players, too
The GMs need to take a long and thorough look at safety issues and then, when changes get made, educate the players and public to the whys and wherefores of these changes.
The players don't care nearly enough about the rules of their game. Show them video. Tell them why the changes were made. Show them how to change their behaviour. Make them responsible. Always amuses me about the game: Players show up for work for about two or three hours a day for practice. Maybe we can impinge on their time for another few minutes to make sure they understand a bit more about the rules and the way the game can be played hard, but reasonably safely.
And, yes, look at the role fighting plays in the game and how much it has to do with the concussion issue. At the very least, find a way to make the five-minute, end-of-the-bench cowboy get back on his horse and ride over to the ultimate fighting ring.
And for the love of god, please change the disciplinary process.
I have respect for what Colin Campbell and Mike Murphy have tried to do, but it is time to introduce a transparent process and standardized punishments. One game, three games, nine games? Silly, if well intended.
Whatever comes of these meetings, I do hope it will be productive. I am sick and tired to having to listen to the Monday morning radio shock jocks pretend they know hockey and bash the game.
Hey, did anyone see Pavel Datsyuk's goal the other night?! Did you see Ovie and Johansson on that give-and-go goal? Things of beauty. We have better talent than ever and I wish we would focus a little more on it.
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