The National Hockey League made numerous rule changes after coming back from the lockout of 2005. The hope was to speed the game up and increase scoring. The result in fact did slightly increase goals, and it made the game much faster. It also increased the amount and severity of open ice hits. Most fans want to speed the game up, but is it worth the cost of man games to injuries? The league cannot afford to to lose more star players to injury.
So why is this happening more often? How do we reduce these injuries?
The injury increase is due to numerous factors that have emerged and evolved since the NHL lockout. Prior to the lockout, the league was geared to a much more clutch-and-grab style. The games were hard-fought and the room for superstars to move on the ice was limited. After the lockout, the league wanted to change the style to a more open, freewheeling, and offensive-oriented game. To achieve this, the league eliminated all clutching and grabbing, took out the rule preventing two-line passes, and called a hooking penalty on any player who horizontally put his stick on another player. It worked, it freed up the game and the stars had much more room to run and gun. It made the game fast, and exciting.
But the increased speed has come at a huge price. It has resulted in more severe injuries. Players now are taught to be more offensive, skate fast and score. That is great, but teaching them offensive creativity and forgetting to skate with your head up is not beneficial to the players success. I am not saying that all open ice hits lately have been legal, but if you look at the last few years, a great deal of them have been solid legal hits. The hit on Voracek a few nights ago by Kronwall was totally legal. Although it was scary and unfortunate, it was legal. Voracek had his head down and Kronwall buried his shoulder into him. Vorachek should have had his head up, or better yet a teammate should have been yelling to him.
I like the game now, I want it to be fast, but we have to worry player safety. Sometimes I think it would be better to go back to the two-line pass, and the clutching and grabbing. At least players were not only thinking offense. They worried about skating with their head up, and taking care of their defensive responsibility. I coach youth hockey now and played youth hockey in the eighties. When I was a kid they preached skate with your head up or you will get killed. Now we teach kids to freewheel be creative and score, score, score. Thats great but if your head is not up you will get laid out. “Keep your head up!”
Maybe the league needs to reevaluate the rules, and determine what is better for the game and its players. Is it speed and goals, or superstars not getting injured? The National Hockey League cannot afford to lose any more stars, but it’s a scary inevitability as things currently stand.