WILMINGTON, Mass. – What would the second half of the NHL season be without the Bruins getting caught in a controversy over a hit to the head?
Last March, the club was in a months-long hullabaloo over Matt Cooke’s hit to Marc Savard’s head, which caused a concussion that is still hindering the Bruins. Now it’s Bruins winger Daniel Paille’s turn to be the hitter and Raymond Sawada’s turn to be the victim.
Paille was suspended four games today by the NHL for the hit, one day after he was giving a game misconduct in Boston’s 6-3 win over Dallas.
Regardless of your opinion on the hits by, and intentions, of Cooke, Paille or any other player that’s been penalized for a check to or near an opponents’ head, one thing is obvious: there needs to be much more clarification and education when it comes to hits to the head.
After Cooke’s hit on Savard, the league’s general managers worked at their next meeting to institute a temporary headshot rule for last spring’s playoffs – a rule which morphed into the permanent Rule 48. Let’s hope that Paille’s hit doesn’t cause as much damage to Sawada (as of now it’s just a broken nose and shoulder injury) as Savard has suffered, but does inspire more action by the league to get everyone on the same page.
To me, the whole concept of a “lateral hit” is far too vague. Anyone can tell when a hit is coming from behind. But where does “lateral” begin and end when players are moving as fast as NHL players skate? Starting with the general managers, the league really has to clear this up and 100 percent define how far in front a player has to be to no longer be throwing a “lateral hit.” Another video distribution should really be in the works.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, an ardent supporter of Rule 48, said today he believes there will be adjustments made going forward.
“I think we made great strides in getting what we have in place now with Rule 48,” said Chiarelli, who earlier had made his case that the four-game suspension was a bit “stiff” based on the play and Paille’s squeaky-clean history. “We’ve talked about even tweaking it, maybe somehow looking at North-South hits and everything. It’s evolving. I like the direction it’s going. I like the parameters that they use; I just don’t like how they applied it here.”
Head coach Claude Julien, who stressed that he is 100 percent in favor of the rule against blindside hits, had another take on this situation and others that have occurred in Bruins and other games around the NHL. While he admits there’s no way to litigate against it, he would like to see puck-carriers and offensive skaters to be more responsible for their actions.
“I’m talking about when a player sees somebody coming and he turns his back to him at the last second, and some guys have done that. I’m talking about at times when a guy’s going through the ice with his head down,” said Julien, who earlier noted that if Sawada doesn’t know to keep his head up on the play he should be in the NHL. “I want to make sure that the players should understand that it’s not all on the one guy hitting, but also they have to take that responsibility. And what I’m saying is that there’s no rules that you could put in place that’s going to enforce that. I’m saying [that’s] the responsibility of the player that’s getting hit. Be smart enough not to go through the neutral zone with your head down. Be smart enough not to turn your back on a player you know is coming to hit you at the last second. And once you cut those off, you’re going to cut down on a lot of those injuries. Not all of them, but if you want to minimize them, that’s the way of starting. That’s what I’m saying.
“I’m 100 percent behind the new rule that’s in. I’m supporting it.”
If I were to agree with Julien at all, I’d probably put about 10 percent of the fault on the players who have gotten hit. It’s a surprise to hear anyone associated with the Bruins make such an argument considering how much they had to defend Savard, and in 2007 defend Patrice Bergeron, against accusations that they put themselves in a vulnerable position.
But the objective here isn’t to argue with Julien’s point. Maybe there would be a way to better train players, and let them know that punishments for rule-violating hits won’t be as harsh if the hit player isn’t taking measures to protect himself. That’s why there needs to be more debate, more perspectives welcomed into the discussion and things have to be more fluid as we go.
We shouldn’t have to wait until a GMs meeting and a Board of Governors meeting and a rules committee vote when it comes to refining rules that involve player health and safety. This is 2011 and there are too many forms of technology to communicate to count. Obviously, there have to be set procedures in place and you can’t change the rule every time someone voices displeasure. But if there are legitimate concerns about consistency of enforcement or vagueness related to a definition in the rule, it shouldn’t be that difficult to put some heads together and come up with a definitive guideline that everyone must adhere to.
Like Chiarelli, I’m impressed the league finally took the action it did with Rule 48. For too long, the old school, “oh it’s just hockey, so suck it up” crowd was getting its way and putting modern-day players’ lives at risk and making a mockery of the sport. But the league shouldn’t be so slow to action when it comes to fine-tuning its rules and setting some rock-solid standards of behavior and punishment.
Let’s hope the league doesn’t wait until there’s another controversial play involving the Bruins in the 2012 portion of next season to spring into action.