The NHL Has to Change

The NHL has been engaged in a battle against dangerous play for some time now, especially as the danger of repetitive head injuries has come to the forefront of sports consciousness. Brendan Shanahan has been doling out suspensions like candy, and it looks like he’ll be handing out two more just last night.

There’s a lot of argument about enforcers and fighting, and their role in cracking down on dangerous play. Shawn Thornton has famously opined about “The Code,” almost to the point of considering it to be a touch of chivalry in its own right. Thornton developed a bit of a credibility problem over the course of the last week, though.

Hockey is a beautiful game. Its penchant for bruising hits, its speed, its finesse, make it popular the world over – even where snow isn’t particularly common. The dangerous play we see in the NHL though, isn’t universal; USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and the International Ice Hockey Federation rules all come down harshly on punitive hits and intimidation. In part due to the Olympic Ethos, there is no fighting in Olympic hockey.

Over the last several years, USA Hockey has instituted a “Standards of Play” initiative. This initiative has a defined goal of removing intimidation from the game, and bring a focus back to skating and stick handling skills. A number of penalties now carry automatic 10-minute Misconduct (or even Game Misconduct) tack-ons because they are always aggressor penalties, showing either a blatant disregard for safety or an attempt to intimidate an opponent.

That does not make it a lesser game, and the NHL needs to follow suit.