Will The Safety Lights Ever Go On For The NHL?

Tom Wilson NHL

Merry Christmas to all and here’s hoping all your Christmas wishes came through! Have to say, I’m pretty satisfied and thanks to family and friends it was a splendid holiday. But before I close the curtain on another Christmas and look ahead to the New Year, I have one more Christmas wish—not just for myself—but for the NHL, it’s leaders, it’s players and all who love the greatest hockey league in the world.

New York Post columnist Larry Brooks pointed out in his most recent Sunday column something must be done and it needs to happen now. Brooks – and I agree with him 100 percent – said it is time for another summit with the powers that be in the NHL to hold a safety summit — much like the one current NHL vice president of the Department of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan orchestrated after the 2004-05 lockout – and figure out what needs to be done to stop the constant parade of “kill shots” that seemingly every NHL game has now.

Yes, the game needs to maintain it’s physical edge and grit — and in the eyes of this hockey scribe — fighting but not staged fighting. Hitting and fighting spontaneously from the passion that is the game of hockey are not what’s wrong with the NHL. What’s wrong is the speed of the game as well as the feeling of invincibility for the player himself and for the way he perceives his opponent. Have no doubt, this is a more exciting brand of hockey than the pre-2004-05 lockout days but as the famous saying goes — “speed kills” — and if the NHL doesn’t do something to slow the game down (reinstitute the red line maybe?) soon, it will be the speed of the game — not fighting — that gives the modern NHL its first casualty on the ice.

Furthermore, it will be the combination of that lethal speed and the current equipment NHL players wear. Kudos to the NHL for deciding to reduce goalie equipment in an effort to increase scoring. But it’s about time they reduce the size of what are essentially weapons in elbow and shoulder pads.

Yes, it’s imperative for players to be more conscientious of just how dangerous their speed and equipment are, but essentially they are playing the game the way they’re asked to play it and within the rules that govern them on the ice.

“That’s what they’re told to do,” NBC and TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire answered while hosting “Melnick In The Afternoon” with Conor McKenna on Christmas Eve. I asked him “Can we get rid of the kill shots?” and not have the goal to be to destroy the opponent.

McGuire went on to explain how NHL players — and hockey players from juniors on – are instructed to finish their checks and “separate the puck from the puck carrier.” He then went on to defend the Tom Wilson hit on Brayden Schenn and asked if those who had issues with such hits simply wanted ‘powder puff’ hockey?

McGuire makes a very valid point and count me in as one of the ones who does not want ‘powder puff’ hockey. There is nothing wrong with finishing a check or playing physical hockey in order to regain puck control. But that can be done without utilizing speed and equipment as a weapon and, more importantly, with more respect for just how fragile the human head is. Unfortunately it appears the speed — and subsequently the culture of the game — has gone awry.

The lines of the game are just as blurred as Schenn was when he attempted to make it back to the bench after the Wilson hit. How else to explain no punishment at all for Wilson while Commissioner Gary Bettman was writing his decision to uphold Shawn Thornton’s 15-game suspension — using a lack of regard for Brooks Orpik’s head as a main reason? So because Wilson’s hit was a ‘hockey play’ he’s excused for not caring if he turned Schenn’s head into scrambled eggs?

If and when Brooks’ suggested summit takes place safety needs to be the priority and with that a clearer picture for the players on how to play a safer game. Make no mistake, things will never be black and white and that’s why I pity Brendan Shanahan and the NHL Department of Player Safety. But maybe another meeting of the minds is just what they need to have a Clark Griswold moment and have the lights finally go back on before they go out for good on the ice.

author avatar
James Murphy
Jimmy Murphy has covered the NHL in print, radio and television for the last 13 years. In addition to his work here at XNSports.com, he currently hosts The Top Shelf Radio Show heard every Monday-Friday 1-3 PM ET on websportsmedia.com and 2-3 PM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio.