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How Suspensions Are Making the NHL Safer

It's a Canadian Game


blog-0293342001387773431.jpgThe holiday season is upon us and it seems that Director of Player Safety Brenda Shanahan has been in the giving spirit, suspensions that is. Throughout the month of December Shanahan has handed out 9 suspensions. So with all these suspensions in the past few weeks a question has been looming in the NHL, is the NHL giving out too many suspensions or have their means been justified?

The NHL has seen 9 suspensions with a total of 38 games given for the infractions this month. Of the 9 suspensions dished out by the NHL, 7 of the suspensions have come to what the NHL had deemed to be dangerous hits, whether they be hits to the head, boarding calls, or hits from behind.

What these suspensions suggest is that the NHL is finally cracking down on dangerous hits in an attempt to rid of hits than cause serious injuries to players including concussions. Over the past few years the NHL has taken a real step forward in trying to make the game safer for the players by trying to remove dangerous plays.

It seems the crackdown on these dangerous plays has come as new knowledge and information on the devastating effects of concussions and head injuries in the sport has started to come out. In May 2011 New York Ranger enforcer Derek Boogard died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. The enforcer’s death came while Boogard was recovering from a concussion. Boogard was later found to have been suffering from a condition referred to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition common in those who have suffered multiple concussions.

Boogard’s case is just one example of the things the NHL wants to prevent. So, in doing this a reduction in headshots has become one of the league’s top priorities. The NHL has handed out 3 suspensions this month for head shots, 7 in total this season and even 2 during the preseason. The NHL has made it clear with these suspensions that these types of hits will no longer be tolerated.

One other way the NHL has shown that it is trying to crackdown on dangerous play is through the harshness of the suspensions being handed out. 9 suspensions have been handed out this month and of those 9, 6 of them have been for either 3 games or less. What this suggests is that the hits that the NHL have been suspending players for haven’t been career ending or necessary malicious or hits with intent to injure another player, but rather that they are hits that have been deemed “dangerous”.

What this does is simply let players know that if they make contact with a players head or catch the player in a vulnerable position they will be penalized beyond just a minor or major penalty. However, they might not get a long term suspension if the intent to injure is not there. In the end this should make players more cautious about how they hit and help them to take better control of their bodies.

Just this past month a group of former NHL players filed a lawsuit against the NHL claiming that their safety was never fully taken into account and that they are owed a settlement because of this. The lawsuit likely comes after a group of former players had recently filed a similar lawsuit against the NFL and won.

Many other critics have also claimed that the NHL has been suspending hits that in the past would never have been considered suspendable. This is true, but as mentioned above it is obviously for a good reason and for the health and safety of the players. The NHL has made it clear that they have no intentions to remove hitting from hockey, but rather that they want the hitting in the game to be safe.

Shanahan has been a very busy body this month and has handed out a lot of suspensions, but these suspensions seem to be justified and should be looked at with optimism. These suspensions don’t suggest that the game is too dirty or that it will become less physical. What these suspensions have done is help players to realize that safety comes first and dangerous play that may put a player’s safety in jeopardy will no longer be tolerated.

Follow me on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman

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This article doesn't really have any numbers or data that supports suspensions are making the game safer.   Its nothing more than an explanation of the supposed theory behind using suspensions to take the brutal and permanent injuries.   In fact I would argue these new rules and the handling of suspensions makes the game less safe.   Instead of players taking their safety into their own hands and watching out for themselves they put themselves in vulnerable positions on the ice with the hopes that these rules and suspensions will have their back.   The problem is they don't.   Its really up to each individual player to look out for their own safety.   I'm not suggesting the league should be anything goes and no rules but there is an overreach here. 

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