Years ago, I wrote a blog about there not being a place in NHL hockey for fighting, and consequentially in no hockey league period, from a player safety perspective it should be banned outright. The NHL Player Safety Department’s responsibility is to protect players. The number of fights has dropped dramatically over the past few years. They’ve come a long way from the high numbers of days gone by, thank goodness. Stricter rules with severe punitive fines and suspensions could almost eliminate it completely.
A more alarming fact is that hits to the head have not dropped off anywhere near as much as fighting has. The reason is that the punishments are not strict enough. The fines aren’t high enough and the number of games suspended aren’t high enough. I get that hockey is a fast game and highly emotional, so stuff happens. I’d argue that most of the bad hits are preventable with the right mindset in place.
In the last minute of play in the first game of the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets round two Stanley Cup playoff series, with the game certainly lost for the Jets, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele took a 150-foot run at a vulnerable Jake Evans as he wrapped around the net to score an empty net goal. It was clear that Scheifele’s intention was to hit Evans as hard as he could without any concern for his opponent’s safety. He had no intentions of playing the puck to prevent the goal. He was set on trying to hurt the player. Every player on the ice, every TV hockey analyst, and even Scheifele himself, know this was a dirty uncalled-for hit.
When the league does finally suspend Scheifele for his hit they’ll take into consideration his other poor sportsmanship during the game when he punched a Montreal player lying on the ice without a helmet. Most players have come to respect that hitting someone who’s not wearing a helmet, especially if they’re already on the ice, is not acceptable and it seldom happens any more. Yet, Scheifele’s emotions got the best of him then, as it did at the end of the game with his uncalled for hit on Evans.
It’s clear Scheifele let his emotions control his actions. There was no underlying fear of severe league repercussion if he hit Evans too hard or if it ended up being a hit to the head. There was no worry on his part about a head injury.
Because the league has not been strict enough with suspensions. The NHL Players Association is partly responsible for this too. They have input into the number of games players can be suspended. They won’t allow a high number of game suspensions. They’re the ones that pushed for the progressive system where a first-time offender, like Scheifele, gets a lower suspension than a multiple offender, like we just saw with Kadri’s eight game suspension. I agree with the concept of a progression for frequency of offences.
The problem is the bar is set too low.
A first-time offender, for a hit like Scheifele’s, should receive at least a ten-game suspension for the type of hit he leveled, with further offences going to twenty-five games, or a season, or once they reach a certain number of offences they’re permanently suspended.
Those type of severe penalties will dramatically reduce uncalled for head injuries.
Without the players knowing that their actions on the ice will have severe repercussions they will continue to take 150-foot runs at their opponents with little regard about the other player’s well-being. If the league combines sever punishments with more education around player safety there’s hope.
Now for the hero part.
I was disturbed to see Evans sitting on the ice unconscious.
The players on both sides could see him lying motionless. There was no doubt about the possible seriousness of the matter. Yet, the Montreal Canadiens chose to start a scrum. I get that’s what the hockey player mentality tells them to do.
That mentality needs to change.
Every single person on the ice should have had one concern in mind at that time, and one concern only. Jake Evan’s safety.
It seems that Jake’s opponent, Nikolaj Ehlers, of the Winnipeg Jets was the only one to get it. He immediately tried to keep the scrum away from Evans and perhaps cause further injury to Evans who lay before them, motionless.
Ehlers demonstrated what true sportsmanship is. He showed respect for his opponent, for the game.
We need that type of mentality in hockey.
(Photo Credit: David Lipnowski, Getty Images)